Why I love islands: beachcombing (sand and shell collecting)
Beachcombing is one of my favorite beach activities. Since childhood vacations in Florida with my family, I have been fascinated with shells. Not long ago, I removed the wide rubber bands holding the lid on a large, broken down shoebox filled to the brim with shells collected on Florida beaches throughout my childhood. Its contents brought back memories of returning from vacation eager to identify my treasures by looking them up in library books on shells.
While not all beaches I visit are filled with a plethora of shells, I can usually find a special shell or two as I walk along the shore, or a small piece of coral, that I tuck into my bag to add to my collection. One of my favorites is the keyhole limpet. They’re not that common, so when I find one, it’s a treasure.
Some of the sugar-white sand found on the Florida Panhandle also found its way back to my Indiana home during my childhood, but it wasn’t until years later that I began a sand collection. Friends and family who have been to my home have seen my little spice bottles filled with sand of all colors and textures.
The bottom of each bottle is labeled with the name of the island where I collected my sample. Before the days of digital photography, I used to fill empty film containers with sand, but now I always pack a few extra zip lock bags for collecting sand from the beaches I visit. Sometimes small shells or bits of sea fan and coral find their way into the bag, too.
While I am a more casual collector, some people have taken sand collecting to another level, actually logging their sand samples in detail, not only noting the general location the sample comes from but the exact location and tide mark location. Serious “technical collectors” also record sand color, grain size, and texture, ranging from very coarse to very fine, and display their samples in racks or bottles of the same size and material.
If you are interested in learning more, check out the U.S. based International Sand Collectors Society (sand collectors.org) and The World Atlas of Sands, another website devoted to sand. Although it appears the last post was in 2012, there is a lot of information about sand collecting and images of collections.
There have only been a couple of places where I didn’t bring back sand (or shells) from my travels. One was from my trip to the Galapagos Islands in 2012. I knew that removing sand or anything from the Galapagos was not allowed and strictly enforced, so I didn’t even think about it. The other was in Tobago, on the way back to Trinidad. The Security person inspected my carry-on bag and removed my small bag of sand, saying I wasn’t allowed to bring it back. That, however, is the first and only time Security has located and removed sand from my bag. I usually travel with only carry-on luggage and have not had a problem since, but if I plan to check a bag, I put my sand in it.
If you are thinking of starting a collection, clear glass bottles with stoppers can be found at Pier One, Michael’s, Hobby Lobby or at flea markets and garage sales.
Do you also collect shells and/or sand from the beaches you visit? If so, I’d love to hear from you in the comments. I’d also be interested in hearing if you have had any difficulty bringing back sand or shells from a tropical vacation.