Something Weird on the Beach Was Staining Their Feet. But What?

Jenny Greenleaf was happy that it was lastly heat sufficient to go barefoot when she and her husband took their common stroll alongside York seashore in Southern Maine this week.

But once they returned to their seashore chairs and commenced to brush the sand off their ft, they observed their usually pale soles have been a deep black.

“I’ve never seen anything like this,” Ms. Greenleaf, a guide designer and artist, stated. “It was almost like I walked through charcoal.”

At residence they showered and scrubbed their ft, however the smudge, which was neither slick nor greasy, would solely partly come off.

Along Maine’s southern coast, in addition to in neighboring New Hampshire, many others have been additionally struggling to take away darkish stains from their ft.

“I still can’t get it off,” stated Kyra O’Donnell, who has had black ft since she visited Great Island Common seashore in New Hampshire, about 14 miles south of York seashore, on Sunday.

Robin Cogger, the director of Parks & Recreation in the city of York, stated she had fielded about 100 calls and emails about stained ft this week. Similar stories on social media got here from as far south as Gloucester, Mass., and as far north as Wells, Maine, a span of greater than 70 miles.

Theories abounded. Algae and oil have been frequent ones. “In Hawaii, the sand can turn black from volcanic gas, but no volcanoes in Maine so it’s probably something gross,” one man wrote in a neighborhood Facebook group.

Ms. Greenleaf had a fringe principle, which even her personal husband scoffed at, that concerned a submarine she had seen in the space.

“Maybe that submarine belched out a cloud of nastiness,” she stated.

On Wednesday, Jim Britt, a spokesman for Maine’s Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry, supplied the possible reply: Millions of tiny black kelp flies that feed off decaying seaweed appeared to have died on one stretch of seashore.

“It’s not known why,” he stated. “Nature does crazy stuff. This might be one of those instances.”

The insect carcasses, which appeared to have washed ashore, include a naturally occurring pigment, he stated.

Efforts have been underway to establish the explicit type of kelp fly, which also needs to assist reply the place they got here from. Regardless, stepping on them doesn’t pose any well being points, Mr. Britt stated.

He couldn’t reply whether or not it could be dangerous for canines to eat them, a query that some have been asking on social media.

Linda Stathoplos, a retired National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration oceanographer, did her personal casual examination of the sand on Wells Beach in Southern Maine on Tuesday, gathering a pattern and it beneath a microscope.

ImageA black kelp fly as seen beneath a microscope. A pigment in the bugs’ our bodies is suspected of staining the ft of people that walked on seashores in New England.Credit…Linda Stathoplos

“There were tons and tons of little bugs, about the size of a tip of a pin,” she stated. Some had two wings. Others had 4. “They were definitely all dead.”

She couldn’t keep in mind ever listening to a couple of related mass “mortality event” of flies.

Neither might Joseph Kelley, a marine geologist at the University of Maine. “I have worked on the geology of beaches for 40 years on the Maine coast and never seen anything like this (or heard about it elsewhere),” he stated in an e-mail.

On Facebook, seashore vacationers with tainted ft listed all the methods they’d tried to get the stain off. Neither dish cleaning soap nor child wipes have been notably profitable.


Millions of kelp flies, which feed off decaying seaweed, appeared to have died on a seashore in Maine.Credit…Maine Department of Environmental Protection, Maine Healthy Beaches Program

Ms. Greenleaf inadvertently found a foot-cleaning answer throughout a subsequent stroll. She and her husband had returned to the seashore after a rain to search for clues. Although the search was fruitless, by the finish of their stroll the sand and stones had buffed the stains away.

“Our feet were spotless,” she stated.