05/19/2015 06:31 EDT | Updated 05/19/2016 05:59 EDT

Sand disappears from popular Burin Peninsula beach

A beach on Newfoundland's Burin Peninsula was one of the sandiest in the province — until it vanished in December.

But Norm Catto, a Memorial University professor, says that's not unusual.

Now all that's left on Shoal Cove Beach, near the town of St. Lawrence, is a whole lot of rocks.  

The beach is a popular area in the summer, where people swim, sunbathe and play beach volleyball.

Normally, it attracts locals and tourists who enjoy the high waves rolling in over fine sand, with just a few rocks — unusual for the rugged Newfoundland coastline.    

At least that's how it looked up until last December, when minor storms over a couple of days seemed to suck all the sand off the beach, leaving a rocky shoreline less than ideal for summer activities.

Despite concerns from locals, Catto, head of the geography department at Memorial University, says the province's beaches are dynamic and constantly changing, and this is just an example of that process.

"This is a natural fluctuation," he says.

"It occurs in response to storm events, particularly storms out of the southwest."

So where did all that sand go? Catto believes it is just off the shore at the bottom of Shoal Cove, and will return over time as conditions change and the winds calm down.

Some residents say they can already see the sand slowly migrating back up the beach, especially at low tide. 

Catto says the sand can be expected to return before the summer is over.

"That sand will be picked up and will migrate back onto the beach system.

"Over time the sandy beach will be rebuilt. Normally you're looking at a period of a few weeks to two to three months"