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"The more you look, the more you discover, and the more you appreciate what an extraordinary environment the edge of an ocean is," says Nick Darke. He is a beachcomber.

Many beachcombers spend endless days, and sometimes nights, on the beach, walking endlessly and marveling at what they discover. Simply put, beachcombing is walking along the beach and seeing what the ocean has left for you to find.

Beachcombing is an outdoor recreation. It can be done wherever there's a beach. Ocean beaches are usually the best, though lake and river shorelines also provide fascinating beachcombing. The environment can be beautiful and harsh at the same time. Beachcombers are always at the mercy of the weather.

Beachcombing do's and don'ts:

  • Do lift logs and rocks and see what's there
  • Don't ever litter
  • Do leave marine life in its natural environment
  • Don't have an impact on the environment
  • Do take your time and look at everything carefully
  • Don't remove too many of your finds
  • Do report any unusual finds or pollution
  • Always be kind to nature!

It's impossible to guess how many people enjoy beachcombing. Certainly millions of people engage in this activity worldwide.

A small number of people make a living as "professional" beachcombers. They are usually scientists or oceanographers. They investigate drift patterns and keep track of things that wash up on beaches.

There are no real trends to speak of when it comes to beachcombing, other than perhaps the increasing numbers of people using expensive metal detectors to find things under the sand.

Beachcomber Isabel Tipton points out that those detectors can be a big waste of time. "They find a hundred beer can tops for every bit of collectible stuff."

Unless you intend on investing in a metal detector, there is very little you need in terms of equipment. For beachcombing, the number one thing you need is a good eye! A bag or a knapsack of some kind is good for carrying the treasures you may find.

There all sorts of things you can find while beachcombing. It just depends on where you are. You might find buried treasure, coins, or even a piece of an ancient shipwreck. Ocean beaches also have countless seashells, sand dollars and a seemingly endless variety of sea life, including starfish and crabs.

Some beaches also gather a fair amount of driftwood and "flotsam."

"Flotsam is anything that floats, like fishing nets, buoys. Technically, and according to legal definitions, it is anything lost from a vessel. Jetsam is stuff jettisoned from a vessel to keep it afloat. Today, most people think of flotsam as anything that washes up on the beach," explains Curtis C. Ebbesmeyer. He is an oceanographer and beachcomber.

You don't really need to be in great shape to go beachcombing, but it can't hurt. Remember that you're walking in sand. Depending on how long you walk for, it can be physically demanding.

Believe it or not, some people actually beachcomb in their cars and other vehicles, on those beaches that will allow it. You can cover a lot of ground like this if you're searching for large objects.

But most people prefer the relaxation of a leisurely walk by the sea. Again, the most important thing a beachcomber possesses is a sharp eye.

Beachcombing can be a great activity for people who are physically challenged, depending on the challenge. It would be next to impossible to maneuver a wheelchair on a beach. However, as mentioned above, those who are wheelchair-bound could enjoy this recreation from a car.

Beachcombing has its dangers. You must always be on the lookout for sharp objects in the sand -- especially if you're barefoot! Another often-unexpected danger is the ocean itself. Be aware of rising tides and occasional big waves. A "surfing" log can do some serious damage.

Beachcombing is usually safest at low tide. "I have never known anyone injured," says beachcomber Barb Short from Bay City, Michigan.

"Follow the normal safety rules. Don't go without letting someone know where you are and when you can be expected back. Wear sturdy walking gear. Don't walk until you are exhausted, as you still have to walk back. Watch a weather forecast before you leave."

It is possible to find employment in beachcombing-related activities. As previously mentioned, scientists and oceanographers frequently beachcomb as part of their jobs. At the other end of the scale, some people find work as beach cleaners. Some creative people use driftwood and other finds to make things they can sell in shops.

Getting Started

Quite literally, all it takes to get started is a beach. Go on a nice day. Pack a lunch, and prepare for a daylong walk by the sea. Keep a watchful eye for anything along the shoreline. You'll be amazed at what you'll find.

"You can start to beachcomb with nothing more than an inquisitive nature, a sharp eye and a love of the sea," says Darke.

"As you do it, you will notice things -- patterns, events, occurrences -- which increase your knowledge and understanding of the sea. Then, after a while you will begin to realize that the more you learn about the sea, the less you know. And the more confident you become at predicting what you will find, the more the sea will surprise you."

If your interest in beachcombing goes beyond a simple afternoon walk on the beach, your best move would be to seek out other beachcombers, and listen to what they tell you. You may also go to your favorite bookstore or to the library and pick up a few books on the subject.


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A site devoted to beachcombing, seashells and more
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A travel guide for Atlantic beaches

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