Beach Combing 101

I’ve recently been reading a lot of books on shelling. We’ve gone camping along the Atlantic coast three times in the last year and my in-laws live along the gulf coast. Because we spend a considerable amount of time along coastal waters – it was about time I learned a bit more about these ecosystems.

So far I’ve read How to read a North Carolina Beach (Pilkey), Seashells of Georgia and the Carolinas (Wirtherington), Living Beaches of Georgia and the Carolinas (Wirtherington), and Seashells of North America (Abbott). These have helped considerable but bay far, nothing compares to simply exploring the beaches, wetlands, and swampy areas in person and learning from hands on observation.

I’ve been doing a lot of research and drawing as a result of this newly inspired interest and new work is being developed – I hope to share a preview soon.

For now, I thought I’d share some of the photos taken during these expeditions as their subjects are the focus of much inspiration. I’m completely in love with barnacles and skate purses and operculum lids and shell hash. Not always the go-to hits that most beach comers like but for me, it’s gold.

Some of the most helpful things that I’ve learned about shelling is that the best time to go is right after a storm. The storm wrack and wrack lines where you see all the sea weed and driftwood can reveal large bounty if searched with a keen eye – only tiny and delicate shells will appear along the swash lines.

beach anatomy - martin county naturewatch
This diagram of the anatomy of a beach is from the Martin County NatureWatch Page (link).

Although I’ve had great success in the summer after storms, the winter has offered the most prodigious finds. Additionally – the tides do matter. About an hour before and after low tide is a great time to shell because the largest amount of the beach is revealed. It’s a good idea to stay out of the Dunes, even if they aren’t already marked off, as they are home to many animals and in the spring shore birds and sea turtles create nests in the dunes that are easily disturbed.

There are different tidal periods for different coasts and during different seasons. For example, along the Atlantic coast near Georgia in May there are two sets of high/low tides per 24 hours but only one set per 24 hours along the gulf coast in Florida at the same time of year. That said – the wrack line is pretty visible for a great portion of the time so if you’re not a tide junky like me then you shouldn’t worry much.

You might be surprised what you can discover – I have been.

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