By Vickie VanDoren
Photograph above by Sara Caruso

When we stroll along the surf, we should always remain conscious of our responsibility to act as guardians of the ocean and its marine life. The ocean has a habit of offering up an incredibly wide range of flotsam and jetsam, and this “bounty of the sea” often includes items harmful to our shore environment. So, when we encounter an object that is nothing more than a hazard to our beach environment and its inhabitants, it is our job as beachcombers either to remove it or to inform the proper authorities.

Sea glass has always been the coveted beach find. Three years ago, however, when I first started searching for sea glass, I found a plethora of sea plastic. My inability to find well-rounded shards of sea glass became a joke among my more serious sea-glass-hunting friends. They would find amazing pieces of glass, marbles, and even old pieces of pottery and other interesting beach finds. I found plastic.

Recently, two friends and I went to a favorite spot to look for glass. We all found some great pieces of fabulously colored sea glass. I found my first marble, but I also found my traditional bounty of sea plastic. This time, though, my sea plastic wasn’t just cigarette lighters, barrettes, and water bottles. Among the items found that day was a dial from an old rotary phone and a disc with a plastic screw through the middle. The disc was covered with mud, and, once cleaned off, it was obvious that it was a tag for an animal. I called the phone number on the tag and discovered that it was from a horseshoe crab, placed there by the U.S. Department of the Interior’s Fish and Wildlife Service. They sent me a certificate by mail, as well as information about horseshoe crabs, including the location where this particular crab was tagged. As a bonus, they even included a lovely pewter horseshoe pin.

Years from now, I suppose, people will comb the beach for plastic relics that the ocean will render up for us to find, and experts will conjure up anthropological explanations of their original use. But, for now and in the future, we need to remain vigilant for pieces of sea plastic that are simply dangerous trash, not treasure. So, I would like to ask that you join me in this commitment. When you set out to comb the beach for treasures, please take two bags with you: one for trash and one for the sea glass or sea plastic you choose to keep. You may get a real head start on future sea plastic collectors, but more importantly, you will definitely be doing your part to protect our beautiful shore.

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