Field Notes from Beachcombing


I come from a family of dedicated, competitive beachcombers.

There’s not much in the way of wisdom that I can impart to aspiring beachcombers, since it’s a very personal, simple activity: all you need is a shoreline and the willingness to look closely. So take the notes that follow with a grain of salt (or, perhaps, sand) and go out there yourself, if you can! You never know what you might discover!


On ethical collecting: 

First of all, keep in mind that beach combing doesn’t always entail collecting things! It’s easy to find shells, photograph or sketch them, and then leave them untouched.

If you adore ocean treasures and want to acquire your own shell-filled cabinet of curiosities, though:

Make sure your shells are empty (and that you are collecting in a place where legally allowed)! Respect sea life by only gathering shells that no longer have animals living in them. These include the original mollusk inhabitants as well as hermit crabs, who have a tendency to claim spacious unoccupied shells for their own!

Most shells that wash up onshore are slightly broken or empty already, and it’s usually easy to take a quick look inside and ensure there’s no one home. If you want to be doubly cautious, though, check for grains of sand or other objects stuck in the shell’s opening. Usually an animal wouldn’t let that kind of obstruction slide for long.


On beachcombers’ “fool’s gold”: 

Remember how I mentioned that most washed-up shells are broken? If you prefer intact specimens, be wary of those that look perfect at first…


…but prove a little more battle-worn upon closer inspection!


On fragility: 

I collect cowries, augers, and torrid shells: all of which are fairly hardy. More delicate beauties, like this sea urchin shell, are best left on the beach unless you have some padding handy.


On the dangers of shelling: 

The old “never turn your back on the ocean” adage is very applicable for beachcombers! You never know when a surprise wave might sweep in.


On leaving the beach a little better than you found it: 

If you do find some shells to take home, lucky you! You may, in turn, want to be kind to the ocean that randomly delivered those finds to your hands. If you’re searching the sands for shells anyway, why not do a little trash collecting too, and keep your beach clean? The reason why I love collecting sea glass, fishing floats, and other random detritus is because they offer a win/win situation: the ocean frees itself of a bit of human jetsam and I get pretty glass and objects!

5 thoughts on “Field Notes from Beachcombing

  1. craftyboutiquebytam December 28, 2016 / 12:06 pm

    I love this article. I especially like the bit about leaving the beach a little better than you found it. We could all learn from that.

    • Mailbox Mermaid December 28, 2016 / 11:05 pm

      Thanks for your kind words! As someone who grew up near the ocean, I’ll do whatever I can to spread the message of taking care of it. 🙂

  2. marinegirl1 December 29, 2016 / 11:08 am

    I kinda want to give this more than one like, especially the last bit. One of my favourite sayings I read in Australia: Leave only footprints, take only memories! It’s so true for every time you go into nature whether its on the beach or in a forest , though I have to admit that I have collected a shell here and there before 😉

  3. thesnailmail December 29, 2016 / 3:36 pm

    “It’s easy to find shells, photograph or sketch them, and then leave them untouched.”
    “… why not do a little trash collecting too, and keep your beach clean?”

    Bless you! This is how we keep our surroundings fresh & full of pleasant surprises for everyone!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s