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A guide for investigating the Atlantic coast shoreline

BEACHCOMBING ADVENTURES sea turtles | diamondback terrapins | shorebirds | wading birds | skate egg cases | knobbed whelk egg cases | sea beans | sea lettuce |seahorses | pipefish | clams | mussels | moon snails | oysters | conchs | whelks | blue crabs | fiddler crabs | horseshoe crabs | limpets| decorator crabs | sea urchins | sea cucumbers | sea stars | hermit crabs | fish | driftwood | sand | tides | edible beach plants | dolphins | porpoises | Cape May diamonds | marine debris


These days while on the beach I am no longer relaxing in my beachchair as my toes melt into the sand, I’m happily chasing after a small tot who is inquisitive about everything. So I decided it was time to go back into my vault of ‘teachable moments’ and catalog some activity gems and random factoids that I used as ‘fillers’ to engage - not only children, but also many adults - while on beachcombing walks, snorkeling excursions, or summer camp lessons. I hope you find these activities as mere forms of mild edutainment to help you and your children to gain more awareness about your surroundings. Each section is also peppered with some facts in case your little explorer has a case of the curiosities. Additionally, I hope you continue to engage in exploration and you and your family are inspired to enact conservation tenets at home and maybe even share those skills with your neighbors! One last item to remember while going through this book, “Take only pictures, leave only footprints”. The activities are meant to happen while exploring on the beach so please use your best judgment and please do not disturb live animals or plants.

list of activities

Sea Turtle Track Safari 4 sea turtles, diamondback terrapins, International Turtle Day Bird is the Word 6 gulls, terns, shorebirds, wading birds Wrack this Way 9 skate egg cases, knobbed whelk egg cases, sea beans, sea lettuce, seahorses, pipefish Play Conchologist 12 clams, mussels, moon snails, oysters, conchs, whelks Don’t be a Dolt, Know Your Molt 16 blue crabs, fiddler crabs, horseshoe crabs Be a Tide Pool P.I. 22 limpets, clams, mussels, decorator crabs, sea urchins, sea cucumbers, sea stars, hermit crabs, fish Get Constructive 30 driftwood, sand, tides Be Entranced by Beach Plants 32 edible beach plants From a Distance 34 dolphins, porpoises Be a Diamond in the Rough 36 Cape May diamonds, marine debris Additional Resources 38 About the Author 39

sea turtle track safari If you’re in the southeastern U.S. during sea turtle nesting season (May through October) you may have the opportunity in the early morning to stumble across the flipper tracks of a female sea turtle who dug her nest the night before. Here are some ‘rules of thumb’ to know which type of turtles nest you may have stumbled upon.



Loggerhead sea turtle tracks alternate (commalike) left and right flippers, and there is no tail mark. Green and leatherback sea turtles use their right and left flippers at the same time to crawl up the beach and they both have tail marks.


Leatherback sea turtles tracks are the widest at approximately 6-7 feet across (Leatherback sea turtles travel over 3,000 miles in order to get to their nesting beaches). Mother sea turtles lay approximately 100-150 eggs in each nest and may lay

a. Loggerhead seaturtle tracks b. Green seaturtle tracks c. Leatherback seaturtle tracks Image (c):


May 23rd is International Tur tle Day! Did you know that almost half of the world’s tur tle species are considered threatened? Beginning in 1990, each year the American Tor toise Rescue sponsors May 23rd each year to “increase respect and knowledge for the world’s oldest creatures”.

Green sea turtle Image (c):

careful - tur tle crossing!

up to 3-8 nests per season. The juveniles hatch after 45-70 days under the cover There are some other types of darkness. of turtles, called terrapins, that you may see searchIt is against federal law to ing for a nesting spot in May, harass, feed, hunt, capture June, and July. Often they’re or kill sea turtles in the U.S. Do seen trying to cross the midnot interact with any nesting dle of the road because sea turtles as it could be in- they prefer to lay their eggs terpreted as harassment. above the high tide line.

Juvenile diamondback terrapin Image (c):


Please be careful when driving as these terrapins come out looking for a nesting spot both day and night. The diamondback terrapin is the only turtle in the world that is adapted to live in the estuary.

bird is the word As you get to your beach destination, you most likely had to drive very close to an estuary. These estuaries (where the rivers and sea meet) are the home to the osprey. Also known as the ‘fish hawk’ the osprey is able to plummet down almost 30 stories above water to grab its prey (e.g., mullet, menhaden, other smaller fish) using its sharp, barbed talons. Here are some other commonly asked questions about our feathered friends to keep the conversation going as you sit in traffic on the boulevard.

Are laughing gulls funny?

Where do seagulls nest?

Laughing gulls are quite aggressive. These birds travel up and down the coasts and never have to stray far inland. They are extremely confident and spend their days foraging food from generous beach goers. They will easily push larger birds, such as a pelican, right out of the way in order to grab the goodies. These birds have a black cap of feathers, but, it changes to white in the off breeding season.

It is interesting to think that seagulls may want to rest at some point. When they are not strategizing how to steal your child’s ice cream cone, they are reenergizing somewhere safe inland (e.g., old boat yards, rock jetties, water towers, etc.). Seagulls are fully grown when they leave the nest. This is why we never see baby gulls.


What is the difference between a tern and a gull?

Terns are generally smaller and have a sharp beak. Gulls have a hooked beak. You might want to ask your Terns have long-pointed little one to watch as the wings while gulls have birds forage for food. Some broad wings. indications would include: Arctic terns fly over 25,000 Terns dive to the water to grab miles to the Southern a fish while gulls float on the Ocean. This is the longest water to pick up their prey. migration of any bird.

Royal tern Image (c):

Pair of laughing gulls Image (c):


What is the difference between a shorebird and a wading bird? Shorebirds and wading birds have many similar features and you may get confused when identfying them. Here are some ‘rules of thumb’ that can help to distinguish the two groups of birds you may often see on the coast. Shorebirds are small to medium size wading birds.

Wading birds have long, skinny legs and toes which make it easier for them to Shorebirds have long legs, search for food (forage) in pointed beaks, and long deeper waters. pointed wings. Wading birds have long Shorebirds wade close to bills with pointed or roundthe shore and poke their ed tips (depending on bills into the ground in what is more efficient for search of food. the types of food the bird consumes). Shorebirds are very well camouflaged for their en- Wading birds have long, vironment and their ap- flexible necks that can pearance may vary from change shape drastically place to place as plumage in seconds, an adaptation (feather colors) are gained for proficient hunting. or lost during breeding. Wading birds fully extend Shorebirds typically range in their legs to the rear when size from 0.06 to 4.4 pounds. flying. The neck may be extended or not while in flight, Examples include avocets, depending on the species. black skimmers, oystercatchers, plovers, sandpip- Examples include cranes, egrets, herons, ibis, rails, ers, and stilts. spoonbills, and storks. 8

wrack this way

The wrack line is the part of the shore just above the high tide line where seaweed is deposited. It is a great place to seek out exotic visitors that may have hitched a ride while tangled up in the seaweed. I always found it helpful to focus wee ones on ‘treasure hunts’ while beachcombing along the wrackline. Egg cases, sea beans, and sea lettuce are fairly distinct - yet still rare. You can collect these items it a bucket in an attempt to create a ‘beach burrito’.

Skate egg cases

Knobbed whelk egg cases

These black pods with tendrils hanging from the corners are the egg cases of skates. They are sometimes referred to as a ‘Mermaid’s purse’. Skates are cartilaginous fish related to sharks and rays. They are similar in shape to rays. We humans have cartilage in our noses and ears. Usually what we see when beachcombing are the egg cases after a juvenile skate has hatched.

The strand of quarter sized pods attached to a central line that resembles a spinal cord is the egg case of the knobbed whelk. If you hold the tiny pods up to the sunlight you can see a miniature version of the whelk developing. Please note that it would not be appropriate to take a saturated egg case for investigation, so you should examine only a version that is dried up and found above the high tide line.

Left to right: Skate egg case, knobbed whelk with egg case Image (c): longbeachislandjournal. com,


Sea beans

Sea lettuce

This brilliant green sheetlike algae washes up in the wrackline, and when dried is white or black. It blooms all year round. The leaves are round and are often Washed up and often perforated with holes of hidden in the wrack line, various sizes. It is often used these sea beans are a ma- in ice cream! rine jewel to many beachcombers. Sea beans are seeds that have traveled for many miles through currents from the Caribbean, South America, or even as far away as Africa. Due to the various currents that collide near the south Atlantic coast, many different types of seeds drift onto the shore.

They come in many shapes and sizes, but since they have spent a considerable amount of time being exfoliated in salty water they often appear smooth and polished.

Learn to be silent enough to hear the sound of the genuine within yourself so that you can hear it within others. - Marian Wright Edelman

Top to bottom: Sea beans, sea lettuce Image (c):,



Seahorses do not have teeth, but rather a fused jaw, so they suck up their food like a straw.

Many animals live and hide among the seaweed patches of the ocean. When seaweed is washed ashore you can pick up the lumps of algae, shake it, and see if any drifters have made their way into your hands. You might find pipefish, crabs, shrimp, or even seahorses.

If you happen to come across a seahorse that is rather stretched out, that is a pipefish. Pipefish also like to use seaweed as a hiding place and wrap their tails around the floating plant.

Many of these creatures have adapted a camouflage so as not to be seen at first glance among the seaweed. One creature children tend to go extactic over is the seahorse. Here are some fun factoids about seahorses to share if you happen to stumble across one. Female seahorses lay their eggs in the male’s tummy pouch. He then incubates them for about 30 days and then they hatch. Seahorses do not have a stomach, but rather they eat constantly to help get enough food to digest. 11

Top to bottom: Seahorse, pipefish Image (c):,

play conchologist A conchologist is someone who collects (and/or studies) seashells. Gather your little one and start seeking out shells of various colors, sizes, and types to create a sandy collage!


What does it mean to be ‘happy as a clam’?

Many times you will see a clam shell on with a perfect Originating from a section of hole drilled through the top. New England where clams are What has happened is a plentiful, the phrase is better unseparation of two shells by derstood in its entirety, ‘happy as the predator of that clam. a clam at high water’. At high The two shells were at one tide clams can avoid predators. point hinged together and Birds, raccoons, seals, and sea stars the animal inside used a are all typical predators of clams. very strong muscle to keep the shells suctioned together as one. Often, restaurants split the shells (shuck) and serve this muscle of the Mussels use a sticky proclam ‘on-the-half-shell’. tein, known as bysuss, to attach to bulkheads, rope, However, the predators and rocks. The bysuss forms of the clams in the ocean tough, yellow fibers that do not shuck. The preda- harden in salt water. Mustor of the clam all have a sels use gills to filter water radula (a sharp, drill-like in order to get food and tongue) used to drill into oxygen. The inside of their the bivalve (animal with shell is iridescent. Mussels, two shells hinged together) like clams, have two shells and suck out its prey. They hinged together and are leave behind the distinctive known as bivalves. symmetrical hole. Moon snails, conchs, and whelks all have radulas.



Clockwise: Shellart, clam shell with radula hole, mussel shell, moon snail Image (c):,,,

Moon snails Moon snails are a univalve animal with a strikingly beautiful cinnamon bun swirled shell. The shell is extremely thick to protect itself from predators. If you try to pick the snail up it will resist because of its suction-like muscled foot planted in the sand. The snail has that muscled foot which makes it glide quickly 13

while also creating swirls in the sand. If you do pick the snail up the animal will quickly close its door for protection. The door, or operculum, needs to be closed to retain water and nutrients. Be aware you may see tiny legs and eyes popping out. Often, hermit crabs use these shells as homes. Lastly, moon snails are predators of clams so you may possibly see some shells with holes nearby.


Conch & Whelks

Often people are curious as to how an oyster makes a pearl. Oyster, like mussels and clams, are bivalves.

The space inside these conical shells is bouncing against your surroundings. Putting a seashell up to your ear in a room with The part of the oyster (like a closed door would not all bivalves) that lines the have the same effect. inside of the shell is known as the nacre, and the part Do you know how to tell of the animal that makes the difference between up the outer shell is known a conch and a whelk? A as the mantle. A pearl is good rule of thumb would actually created rather by be that whelks are found accident when something in temperate water and foreign gets stuck inside conchs are found in more the mantle, thus the nacre tropical waters. Their body accumulates an added colors are different as well. layer to protect the animal. This accumulation is Conchs have a green or the pearl. Oysters, mussels, gray color while whelks are and clams all make pearls. white or tan-like in appearHowever, they are most of- ance. Conchs have eyeten seen in oysters. balls, while whelks have eyespots. If you’re lucky Oyster shells are typically enough to catch them not as uniform in shape while feasting, whelks are as clams and mussels and carnivores and conchs are tend to grow according to herbivores. their surroundings, making it easier for foreign junk to accumulate.


Clockwise: Channeled whelk, oyster, conch Image (c):,,


don’t be a dolt, know your molt

Many of the treasure you may end up finding along the shoreline are the exoskeltons shed from crabs. Many times these exoskeletons are mistaken for dead crabs. But, you can rest assure that it is more likely the exoskeleton (also known as the ‘molt’ since it is shed during the molting process) from horseshoe crabs, blue crabs, lady crabs, and other crustaceans. In fact even though these molts looks rather dreary and skeleton-like there is no reason to be frightened because it is jsut chitin, something common to us as well. Chitin is the main material for 1) the exoskeleton of shrimp, crabs, and lobsters, 2) the beak of squid and octopi and 3) the radula of mollusks. It is very similar in make up to glucose and similar in function to keratin (which is what makes up our hair, skin, and nails).

Blue crabs

Fiddler crabs

If you’re searching through the wrack line, you’ll certainly see the molts of blue crabs. If you flip one over you’ll notice a shape in the center of their bellies. Male blue crabs have a distinct shape like a pencil, or the Washington Monument, in the center of their bellies. Female blue crabs have a shape like the Capitol dome. Also the tips of the claws are blue for males and red for females.

If you see a dollar coin sized hole in the sand it might be the home of a fiddler crab. Tell your little one that fiddler crabs got their nickname because the extra large claw of the male fiddle crab is shaped like a fiddle. They use this extra large claw to attract females and as a tool for defense when other males want to duel during mating season. 16

Clockwise: Female blue crab (underside), female blue crab (top), fiddler crab, male blue crab (underside) Image (c):,,,


Lobsters Did you know that some lobsters can be blue due to a genetic modification or an abnormal diet. Most lobsters are earthen brownish-green prior to cooking and then turn red. Lobsters of any color taste the same after being cooked. A lot of people are under the assumption that lobsters mate for life. In fact, the male lobster is apparently quite the Casanova. Female lobsters tend to patiently wait in line outside of a male lobster’s den waiting for their turn to mate. All lobsters have to molt. Females can only mate right after molting. So, when she is ready to shed her old shell, the female releases a pheromone into the male’s den. The male exits his den, and the male and the female proceed to have a boxing match with their claws. The female lets him win and places her claws on his head. Then they move into

the den and in a few hours to a few days she molts. Then it is time to mate. After that she hangs out until her new shell is strong enough to protect herself, at which point she leaves the den and never looks back.

Top to bottom: Blue lobster, lobster molting Image (c):,


sembles the fossil record of trilobites (an extinct marine arthropod). A living fossil The Atlantic horseshoe crab, is an organism that more Limulus polyphemus, is one closely resembles a fossil of my favorite animals. This than anything around tocreatures has some remarkday. Living fossils have gone able adaptations and feaunchanged after millions of tures that have made the years, therefore resembling animal survive since before the fossil record of their andinosaurs were on earth. cestors very closely.

Horseshoe crabs

At first glance, this animal looks intimidating. That long spine, known as the telson, will not stab you. The telson is used to flip the horseshoe crab over when the ocean current rolls the arthropod over onto its back. The tip of the telson is jabbed into the sand and the horseshoe crab rights itself over, somewhat like the act of throwing a javelin. If you see one alive and want to take it back to the sea it is best to pick it up from the side of its carapace. Take the time to inspect it 10 pairs of legs and see if it’s gobbling any food with its mouth, located between its legs. The Atlantic horseshoe crab is a living fossil that re19

Horseshoe crabs have gone unchanged for 450 million years. They actually existed before the dinosaurs! Other examples of living fossils include alligators and crocodiles which haven’t

Horseshoe crab body parts Image (c):

evolved much in the past 230 million years. Horseshoe crabs have a tough exoskeleton that is difficult for predators to get through. They also can go for a year without food so they spend a lot of their life hiding. They also have the ability to endure the most extreme conditions in their environments. Horseshoe crabs are a steadfast and vital component of the Atlantic coast ecosystem. Their highest concentrated nesting ground is along the Delaware Bay, which is a popular rest stop for many migratory birds as they make their way south and north. But, horseshoe crabs have a ritual of coming up to mate during the full and new moons in May and June. It’s quite the phenomenon and

It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change. - Charles Darwin

well worth it if you’re inspired to be a volunteer and count the horseshoe crabs for a local census. For ten months out of the year horseshoe crabs live in the depths of the ocean floor and currents often tousle the creature over. Horseshoe crabs grow on average a quarter the size each time they shed. Females grow to be approximately two feet across and males a bit smaller. Many molts often wash up to the shore and get tangled in the wrack line. If you’re investigating 20

the wrack line and think you might see a horseshoe crab that is still alive and struggling, you should pick them up by their sides and right them up so they can get back to the sea. This simple act can save many crabs. Horseshoe crabs have also become essential in the medical field as their special blue blood (containing copper instead of iron) will congeal in the presence of either living or dead gram negative bacteria (both are undesirable). This is another adaptation which has made the horseshoe crab survive through the centuries. Opposite page: Horseshoe crabs mating, This page (clockwise): Horseshoe crab blood being drained, child examing horseshoe crab molt, horseshoe crab molting Image (c):,,,


be a tide pool p.i.

Tide pools are only found during low tide along the intertidal zone, as high tide covers up the habitat. The animals that live in tide pools are distinctively adapted to surviving with the various amounts of water. If you have the opportunity to spend any time at the beach during low tide you’ll certainly want to investigate these small habitats that are vibrant and filled with life. John Steinbeck wrote in The Log from the Sea of Cortez, “It is advisable to look from the tide pool to the stars and then back to the tide pool again.� Some animals you may want to seek out are fish, sea stars, limpets, mussels, clams, and crabs.

Limpets Limpets are small, flattened snails with a conical shell that live on rocks in the intertidal zone. They trap water beneath their shell and use it to survive from high tide to low tide.


While making your way to the tide pool, did you see tiny colorful clams wriggle under the sand? These clams use a muscled foot to dig a burrow and hide from their predators: crabs, sea stars, and snails. They are able to feed themselves with the muscle coming out Mussels attach themselves of the other end, called a to any type of hard sub- siphon. The siphon absorbs strate in the intertidal re- the nutrients from the sea to gions, including pilings. On help the shell grow. These pilings, the top most mussels clams grow quickly in the indicate the high tide line. summer and slowly in the Mussels tend to aggreagate winter. You can tell the age together to reduce individu- of a clam by counting the allexposure during dry con- darker rings. The pale rings ditions in the tide pool. indicate the winter. 22


Clockwise: Limpet and barnacle, clam shell, juvenile clams in sand, mussel Image (c):,, com,


Decorator crabs Several species of crabs are considered ‘decorator crabs’ because they conceal themselves with sponges, bryozoans, anemones, and other vegetation. The crabs will hold a piece of decoration against their shells until they begin to grow there. They are equipped with Velcrolike bristles which keep their camouflage attached. Surprisingly enough, the decorations remain with the crab even when it sheds its exoskeleton. When the old shell splits, the vulnerable crustacean crawls out. The crab hides from predators while a new shell forms.

from other nearby predators. Sea stars also have the pedicilaria that they use to attach themselves to tough substrates. Sea urchins are a part the phylum known as the echinoderms. Echinoderms all have very bumpy skin and pentaradial symmetry. Pentaradial symmetry means that you can divide the specimen into five equal parts. Included in this group are sea stars and sea cucumbers among many others.

Sea cucumbers

Sea cucumbers have an interesting tactic to protect themselves. They will expel their intestines outside of their body to distract wouldbe predators. The sea cuSea urchins do a very similar cumber is a prized Japathing, but sea urchins have nese culinary tradition often very thin tube-like suction used in soups and stews. cup feet named pedicilarFisheries along the Atlantic ia. These feet are useful to coast have been popping grasp onto pieces of seaup in the past twenty years shells, pebbles, or seaweed to sell sea cucumbers. to disguise the sea urchin

Sea urchins


Clockwise: Decorator crab, sea urchin, sea cucumber, child and adult beachcombing Image (c):,,,


Sea stars Commonly referred to as starfish, sea stars are a kid magnet. If you’re lucky enough to unearth one of these echinoderms attached to a rock, be sure to make the most of the moment and explain some of these attention-grabbing facts with your children.

Sea stars have been known to live up to 35 years in the wild! It really depends on the species. Their wild habitat includes coral reefs, rocky coasts, sandy bottom, or even the deep sea of all the world’s oceans. There are approximately 1,800 different types of sea stars. They have been known to live up to 10 years in aquariums.

Sea stars are not fish. All fish have a backbone, just like us. Sea stars have a flexible skeleton and can regenerate body parts. It is important, though, to still be very careful when handling these animals. Sea stars breathe only under water using a water vascular system. You can see many, tiny tubed-feet (pedicilaria) on the underside of the animal. These are a main component of the water vascular system. Sea stars have an eyespot at the tip of each leg. These eyespots can distinguish between light and dark. 26

Hermit crabs

When the hermit crab is ready to move away Hermit crabs are often from its’s current shell, a popular and desirable pets new shell with an opening for young beachcombers. slightly larger than its preIt is intersting to find out vious one will be most apthat hermit crabs are not propriate. Specifically if the able to breed successfully opening will allow its large unless they can deposit claw to tightly seal its body their eggs in teh ocean. If within the shell. you do happen to stuble across a hermit crab as a pet, know that the crab will be in constant need of a new shell as it gets larger.

Opposite page (top): Close up of tube feet of sea star, (bottom): sea star, This page: hermit crab Image (c):,,



If you’re anything like me, after twenty minute of givYou may be lucky enough ing it my all with an ento fish some tiny fish dartthusiastic youngster I am ing around tide pools as thinking naptime. In case many fish, including sculpin, you’re wondering, most use these areas as nursey fish are just like us and simground before heading out ply want to find a place to the open ocean where away from all the chaos of they’ll be more vunerable. the day-to-day rat race to So, keep an eye out for rest. These places could be some interesting shapes under logs, coral crevices, that may be egg masses as anywhere out of the way many species lay eggs on of predators. the rocks and vegetation of the tide pool. Here is an interesting adaptation from the parrotfish 97% of fish do lay eggs. which uses its spit to creHowever, some shark speate a translucent “sleepcies like the shortfin mako ing bag bubble” around do give birth to live young. its body while it sleeps. The If a fish gives birth to live bubble helps to hide the young it’s not always just scent of the parrotfish so like humans. Sometimes, other fish will not find it. If the embryo of some speanother animal bumps into cies gets no nutrients from the bubble the parrotfish the mother, but is takwill be warned of a posen from the egg. Coelsible predator nearby and acanths, a fish thought to make a quick getaway. be extinct, gives birth this way. Opposite page (clockwise): Sculpin, shortfin mako, ceolocanth, parrotfish Image (c):,,,


Why do animals make their home in tide pools? With a constant stream of sunlight plants are able to thrive in tide pools. There is an adundance of nutrients and oxygen as the tides bring water back and for th. With many different types of surfaces (rocks, driftwood, etc.) animals can find a secure place to hide. Many animals (hermit crabs, mussels, etc.) are able to ‘seal’ themselves to keep in moisture when the tide goes out. Many inter tidal animals have adapted to tolerate varsious levels of salinty as the tide goes in and out. 29

get constructive

It might seem simple, but spending ten minutes searching for driftwood can have amazing rewards. Driftwood is wood that has been washed onto the shore and each piece has a distinct character as it’s been traveling a unique journey. It has been eroded and shaped by wind, tides, and waves. These sticks can be used to create tic-tac-toe boards, decorate sandcastles, create graphite in the sand, or even used to keep those math skills up during the summer break.


Did know that a person who collects sand specimens from various beaches is known as an arenopile? Not to be confused with a person who loves aviation, an aerophile.

If you do decide to build a sandcastle or play with driftwoods in the sand, here are some conversation pieces to make it an even more enriching experience. Yes, the following is actually exciting elements on sand. since the rocks surrounding are made up of variYou see sand is essentially ous types of silicates. Black the smallest bit of the earth sand found near volcanoes which surrounds any partic- is high in iron and aluminum ular beach. since that is what is found in lava. Sand off the coast For instance, sand found on of Namibia is known to the Atlantic coasts’ sandy contain diamonds! Mostly beaches is high in calcium, all sand, though, contains since seashells are rich in quartz. It is thought that this calcium and are broken common ingredient is cardown to form sand there. ried by bird droppings. Inland lakes and ponds have sand high in silicon 30

Tides It is also worth mentioning that the best spot to build a sandcastle is right where the last tide just went out. That is where the sand is solid and you don’t have to dig too deep before hitting water. Understanding tides can be a tricky concept, but explain to your young one

that each ocean has its own timetable depending on the size. It is also dependent upon the gravitational pull of the moon. The highest tides are found at the Bay of Fundy (Atlantic Ocean) off the coast of Nova Scotia and New Brunswick in Canada, as well as Maine in the United States. These tides are typically 5 to 10 times higher than other coasts!

Left to right: Driftwood, island at low tide at the Bay of Fundy Image (c):,


be entranced by beach plants

Many of the islands that we are able to drive to for a weekend getaway are developed barrier islands. These islands are there to protect the mainland from harsh weather. Technically, barrier islands are mountains, permanently exposed, coming up from the bottom of the sea. They are made of rock and pebble. Estuaries are the body of water in between the barrier island and the mainland. The beaches of the barrier islands have an additional barrier of the dunes covered in plants to protect the life on the islands. Many of these plants have adaptations such as low root systems or waxy leaves to keep the salty air from damaging them.

Edible plants Here is a sampling of some of the plants that you may see, and if you’re lucky enough to spot them you can even taste! You can eat the blackberries of the dewberry with milk and honey. For a refreshingly cool drink, soak winged sumac in cool water for 15 minutes. Devour the sweet pulp of the prickly pear after you peel away the skin. Add the leaves of sea rocket and sea lettuce to a fresh seaside salad. Lastly, gorge on the stems

Above: Barrier island, Opposite page (Clockwise): Dewberry, winged sumac, prickly pear, sea rocket, bull thistle Image (c):,,,,,


of the bull thistle (of course, only after you’ve removed the thorns!). I also suggest taking some time to close your eyes and reveal in the sounds as the dune grass makes as the wind passes through it.


from a distance

Do you see the waves break farther at sea? There may be a natural sandbar there. A sandbar is created when the current closest to the ocean floor is moving offshore and meanwhile dumping small piles of sand. The sand accumulates to various degrees and creates the shallow areas after you’ve swum through a deep spot. These accumulations are known as shoals. A sandbar is long, narrow shoal near the coast. like sharks and other fish). You can tell the difference between a dolphin and If you’re lucky enough, you a porpoise in a few differmight be able to spot a fin ent manners. But, the only popping up in the horizon. way from your vantage Marine mammals, such as point would be to notice if dolphins and porpoises, the dorsal fin is a triangular have to come up to the shape (porpoise) or curved surface to breathe (unback (dolphin).

Why is a dolphin not a fish?


Comparing dolphins and porpoises

Dolphins take pleasure in play: jumping, somersaulting and creating games and athletic contests, not to win, but simply to live ... - Wyland Opposite page: Ocean horizon, This page: Comparison of dolphin and porpoise Image (c):,


be a diamond in the rough

I would be doing the ocean a great disservice if I didn’t take the opportunity to speak on its behalf and note that it is an ecosystem in trouble. a considerable amount of time floating in the ocean. It has been tumbling along Much of the cause of this the sand and water for so trouble is marine debris, long that that the glass, more specifically, plastic slate or what-have-you, marine debris. In the last has been polished by the half of the past century, sand. If you are lucky you plastics made a significant will find some with faded impact on mankind’s qualdescriptions of their original ity of life. However, there containers. have been noticeable and unforeseeable conseThe subjects featured in quences. While you’re enthese activities are but a joying the last moments of small dose of the wonders sun for a beautiful beach of the coastline and ocean day, please do your part beyond. Please continue and collect bottle caps your exploration and here and those tiny bits of carare some additional rery-out containers that can sources to get you started. get caught up in the wrack line.

Marine Debris

If your little ones are able to join you, have them participate. But, you can also keep their innocence alive and have them search out for sea glass. Sea glass is a well traveled piece of history. The hard substances that you find have spent


Are the improvements that plastics bring to our quality of life balanced with the direct and indirect harmful effects that plastics have on marine life?

Above: Marine debris, Opposite: Cape May diamonds Image (c):,


Additional Resources Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission Enchanted Learning National Geographic Society National Marine Educator’s Association National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration – National Marine Fisheries Service Pew Environmental Group Sea Grant Association Smithsonian Institute

Great Books for Follow-up Here is a list of 10 ocean-themed picture books for children appropriate as young as 2 years of age. ‘Commotion in the Ocean’ by Gil Andreae ‘Over in the Ocean: In a Coral Reef’ by Marianne Berkes ‘Mister Seahorse’ by Eric Carle ‘The Magic School Bus on the Ocean Floor’ by Joanna Cole ‘Swimmy’ by Leo Lionni ‘Beach Day’ by Karen Roosa ‘Hello Ocean‘ by Pam Munoz Ryan ‘I’m the Biggest Thing in the Ocean’ by Kevin Sherry ‘The Suzanne Tate Nature Series‘ by Suzanne Tate ‘Flotsam’ by David Wiesner


Law Foundation), and has been shared as a teaching resource on environmental Ann McElhatton has been a educator websites from Hafield biologist, conservationwaii to New Jersey. ist, and a naturalist instructing various audiences for over a Ann has a B.S. in Marine Redecade. As a south Jersey sources Management from native, she loves any teachRichard Stockton College able moment where she can of New Jersey and an M.Ed. demonstrate the gentle and in Environmental Education extraordinary attributes of from Florida Atlantic Univerthe Atlantic horseshoe crab, sity. She is currently the ProLimulus polyphemus. gram Manager with the Atlantic Coastal Cooperative In 2008 she started the webStatistics Program, and is a site, Beach Chair Scientist. member of the North AmeriWhich has been featured in can Association of Environthe NOAA’s Information Exmental Educators, National change for Marine EducaMarine Educators Associators, numerous websites and tion and the Mid-Atlantic Mablogs (including USGS, Wildrine Educators Association. Coast, and Conservation

About the Author

39 ... bringing a simplified perspective to your beachcombing inquires & more.

10 Beachcombing Adventures  

A guide for investigating the western Atlantic coast shoreline

10 Beachcombing Adventures  

A guide for investigating the western Atlantic coast shoreline