Dr. Beach Names America's Best Beach 2012:
Coronado Beach in San Diego, California
 
NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC, FIELD GUIDE TO THE WATER'S EDGE.  As summer approaches, many vacationers will be heading to favorite beach, lake or river destinations - and this book is a perfect companion to any water adventure.  This book is designed for those who enjoy the many natural wonders along North America’s ocean beaches, lakeshores, riverbanks, streams, ponds and marshes. The book is written by two veteran scientists and water edge experts, Stephen Leatherman, better known as Dr. Beach, and Jack Williams, longtime weather editor of USA Today.
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Beachcombing Basics
Almost every beach visitor does a little beachcombing along the ocean’s edge to see what the tide has washed in. It is a relaxing escape from everyday concerns. Other people take their beachcombing seriously, making a hobby or even a business of collecting what they like among the many objects they find. Whether you are casual or serious, beachcombing helps you connect with the ocean and some of its creatures.

Start with the Wrack Line
Wrack refers to several species of living seaweed, as well as dead vegetation of all kinds, that are washed up by waves and often are concentrated along the high-tide line, which is called the wrack line. This long row of debris stretching along the beach almost always offers fascinating discoveries—for example, the seaweed called sargassum, which contains little brown balls. The balls keep the sargassum afloat as it circles the Sargasso Sea, a huge eddy in the middle of the Atlantic. Pieces of sargassum, including their little floats, break off and drift to beaches along the Atlantic and the Gulf of Mexico. In wrack lines you can find many of the items that are described in this chap- ter. In fact, wrack lines sometimes contain more living things than any other part of a beach. Walk along the line slowly, look carefully, and you may find many creatures that you have never seen before. Wrack offers protection, nutrients, and moisture to an entire food web that includes tiny shrimplike creatures, mole crabs, ghost crabs, and shorebirds such as terns that are foraging for a meal. Seeds and nutrients in wrack washed onto the back beach may help plants become established to stabilize new dunes.

Rules for Beachcombing
Before collecting any seashells, be aware that there may be strict government regulations to follow or private property to respect. In many locations you are not permitted to take whatever strikes your fancy. In some areas, it may be forbidden to collect seashells containing live animals and even to take empty shells. Always check for possible regulations because illegal collecting may result in substantial fines. Two examples:

1. Pay attention to strict regulations banning the collection of abalone, which are large, edible sea snails, along the California coast.
2. Florida prohibits collection of beautiful queen conchs, which have edible meat.

Even where collecting mollusks is legal, you should not interfere with nature’s food web by taking any living mollusk. Taking items besides living creatures may also be prohibited. For example, the National Park Service forbids removing sea glass or pottery from Spectacle Island in Boston Harbor, a prime site for finding sea glass.

It is especially important to learn the rules before beachcombing at national wildlife refuges, national sea- shores, and state parks—but wildlife regulations may also apply to private property. There is another good reason not to collect shells containing living animals: When the creature dies and begins to decay, its odor may quickly become unbearable, perhaps like that of rotting fish.

Sea Glass and Plastic
Many beachcombers collect pieces of glass that waves, sand, and water have tumbled and smoothed over many years, creating unique shapes, colors, and textures. Some collectors use them to make sea glass jewelry or art objects. The North American Sea Glass Association links collectors with its newsletter and collecting conventions. As plastic containers increasingly replace glass ones, sea glass is getting harder to find. Most beachcombers view the large amount of plastic waste on beaches as unsightly garbage.

Did You Know?
Black patches of beach sand do not usually come from oil spills? More often these patches contain minerals darker than the usual quartz sand.

Safety Tip
Do not pick up or prod unrecognized man-made items such as metal canisters; unexploded bombs or mines sometimes wash ashore.

(read more about this book)