Plum Island. Photo by Robin Lubbock for WBUR

Plum Island. Photo by Robin Lubbock for WBUR

On the northern tip of an island surrounded by river, marsh and sea, a few dozen volunteers sink shovels into a mound of sand, digging 10,000 holes to plant 20,000 stalks of beach grass.

They’re residents of Reservation Terrace — a dozen shoreline houses at the latest flashpoint in Plum Island’s long struggle against erosion — and they’re hoping the grass will lend their homes some protection.

“Our only line of defense, according to [state environment officials], is sand and dune grass,” says local activist Vern Ellis, who’s leading the planting.

Ellis knows it’s an effort worthy of Don Quixote — a bad storm could easily wash away the grass and the berm — but he hopes the beach grass buys his little La Mancha some time. The grass will nourish a berm put in place after a series of devastating winter storms caused repeated flooding on Reservation Terrace.

“The grass grows really, really deep roots, 3, 4 feet down, and it spreads and it basically holds the sand in place,” Ellis says. “And this stuff is really resilient. It could get buried up to about a foot of sand and will come back up through it.”

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