As the Atlantic Ocean continues its assault on the south-facing shoreline of the Vineyard, Lucy Vincent Beach in Chilmark has been turned into a hazard zone, its once-broad sweep of sand now chewed away by ocean waves and littered with pieces of collapsed cliff.

“The conditions are extremely dangerous, even for an experienced person like myself,” said Chilmark beach superintendent Martina Mastromonaco yesterday. “I think my biggest concern right now is keeping people away from the area.”

Ms. Mastromonaco knows firsthand of the perils at Lucy Vincent. As she was trying to snap some photos of the problem areas on Wednesday, she slipped on the dark, slippery clay on the eastern end of the cliff and took a spill backwards.

She is not alone in her concern. The hazardous conditions at Lucy Vincent Beach were a topic of discussion for the Chilmark selectmen this week, who met with the beach committee, the conservation commission and the police department about how best to tackle the complicated task of safeguarding the popular town beach for summer beachgoers.

All agreed that it will not be easy. The bluff, which is made up of heavy clay and sediment, has literally crumbled on top of itself in recent months and weeks, collapsing a cave that had formed over time underneath the cliff. During high tide, the ocean cuts off access from the west to the east end of the beach, and even at low tide, the pathway around the front of the cliff is dangerous, studded with jagged, crumbling boulders.

The annual erosion rate at Lucy Vincent beach is around five and a half feet per year, but Jo-Ann Taylor, coastal planner for the Martha’s Vineyard Commission, said yesterday that figure is only an average, and in fact the cliff is prone to losing large chunks at a time, especially following an extreme freeze and thaw. “It’s a dynamic kind of erosion. Some parts of the bluff will erode more, depending on what’s in the bluffs that’s exposed,” she said. “[The bluffs] are so contorted that the next layer that appears as the face of the bluff may be more resistant or it might be softer.”

Right now, the heavy conglomerate that makes up the cliff is falling off in large chunks, and one area looks particularly dangerous. “If anybody’s close to it [when it falls], it could be catastrophic,” said beach committee chairman Kristin Maloney at the selectmen’s meeting. “I know that there are lots of regulations and rules about touching anything on the beach, but it is going to come down,” she said.

“It’s classified as a coastal bank, and coastal banks are to be protected,” said conservation commission chairman Richard Steves. But he agreed that safety should take top priority. “I think from an emergency situation, the safety factor should trump the environmental factor.”

Members of the conservation commission accompanied Ms. Mastromonaco out to the beach to see the bluff for themselves on Wednesday, but turned back when they realized that the high tide and foggy weather made it too dangerous for an inspection. Still, the committee sent a letter to the selectmen yesterday recommending that the cliff be left alone, allowing the natural erosion to continue. They recommended against any measures that would artificially accelerate the erosion.

“I think the concern is the environmental impact of taking a machine out there,” said Ms. Mastromonaco, referring to the possibility of using a bulldozer to bring down the piece of cliff posing the greatest hazard at the moment. “It’s not really taking the piece down, it’s what it’s going to take to get out there to do it,” she said.

Ms. Mastromonaco’s next goal is to try to get more lifeguards out on the beach to monitor the cliff, and direct people who want to reach the eastern end of the beach through a path behind the bluff.

“Last year, the issue was more around a cave . . . and I was able to put a sign up in that area, and it stayed most of the summer. But the beach to the east of the cliff is not currently staffed with a lifeguard. There is a lifeguard stationed at the west side of the cliff, to keep people away, but the area is frequently unstaffed during periods of rotation,” Ms. Mastromonaco said.

“I need to have additional staff to keep people away from that area. And all that is yet to be determined by the town.”

At the Tuesday selectmen’s meeting, board chairman Warren Doty suggested that the beach committee meet to discuss the staffing issue and then make a recommendation to the board. But Ms. Mastromonaco said the committee needs to take action before their next meeting, on June 29. “I need to know right now, because I’m doing the scheduling,” she said yesterday. “I would only want to put the experienced guards out there and not new people, so it’s going to take a whole lot of rotating of employees on my part.”

Meanwhile, there is another key issue of concern for the town: access for emergency vehicles. Police chief Brian Cioffi visited the beach this week and said yesterday that town emergency workers will be able to reach the eastern end of the beach this summer through the trail that weaves behind the cliff and back up to the beach, but he said they will have to move the trail over some 20 feet in one section that has washed out over the years. Chief Cioffi said the conservation commission approved his request to make that change on the beach yesterday. He said the work will begin as soon as possible.

Ms. Taylor said there is no turning back nature at Lucy Vincent, but she agreed that the current situation is perilous.

“For now, it’s very dangerous for people to try to walk there, especially with their kids,” Ms. Taylor said. “Beachgoers will have to live with that, and not endanger themselves, or endanger the lifeguards. Hopefully the situation will evolve into one that’s safer, where there’s beach to walk on.”