Ocean City beachgoers urged to avoid mounds of washed-up grass that scientists call 'puzzling'

Mounds of an invasive straw-like grass found in marshes throughout the mid-Atlantic mysteriously washed up on Ocean City beaches this week, and town officials are urging beachgoers to avoid them.

The sharp stalks of Phragmites grass could contain hazardous debris and sea life, town officials warned. Crews have been working to remove them from areas around 94th Street and into Delaware.

While many vacationers may have assumed it's just a larger-than-normal wash-up of the sea grasses they're used to seeing, they actually present "a good mystery," said Roman Jesien, science coordinator at the Maryland Coastal Bays Program.

"We're at a loss as to where it came from," Jesien said.

Phragmites is the bane of many saltwater marshes around the Chesapeake Bay watershed, crowding out natural grasses that are better suited to supporting native birds and insects.

For the grasses to wash up in Ocean City, bay advocates suspect they were either cleared from somewhere and then dumped in the ocean, or that they were somehow naturally washed away from Delaware Bay marshes as far away as New Jersey.

What's especially "puzzling," Jesien said, is that they appeared overnight, all at once, surprising beachgoers Wednesday morning.

That could support the idea that they were cut and dumped, or it's possible the grasses died some time ago and a recent high tide carried them out to sea all at once, he said.

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