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Sea glass and shell searching in Ocean City

Sea glass and shell searching in Ocean City

Ooh, there it is.

Over there. It’s catching the sunlight.

That tiny piece of red that definitely isn’t a shell.

As you pick it up, you notice that there’s still a recycling symbol from its bottle. 

A little flurry of excitement rushes in as you realize you may have found something a little rare and a lot of cool. Sea glass.

“It’s almost like a gift from a mermaid,” said Sue Slotterback, environmental educator at the Wetlands Institute. “It represents smiles, fun, magic, and enjoyment.”

But what exactly is sea glass? 

“Sea glass comes from a lot of different sources. It’s glass that’s been tossed around the ocean or bay. It’s literally gotten sanded by sand or small pebbles. It’s been tumbled around for years. It’s just broken glass. It’s going to have sharp edges. It takes a long time for the scratches to happen but you can put some freshly broken glass into a rock tumbler and it would take a day or two to get it to look like sea glass. It’s smooth. There’s no sharp edges,” said Sue.  

If you’re having trouble finding sea glass, Sue’s advice is simple – keep looking. 

Businesses used to toss their glass out into the water, which means that you might have a better chance finding sea glass near the bay.

“Location, location, location, that goes for shells too,” Sue said.

If you’ve ever wondered why you see the shells you see as you walk down the beach, there isn’t one explanation.

“For different reasons you’ll see different shells. You might go down the beach and see a lot of blue mussel shells. There was a rock that got covered up with sand and then after a storm it exposed that rock again and the mussels had suffocated under the sand. Now they’re released and they’re all over the beach. Again, after a storm you might see some surf clams. The really big ones. Sometimes you’ll see a whole bunch of little surf clams. That tells me that there was a major shift of a sand bar and they were tossed up,” said Sue.  

Sure, you might see these shells, but did you ever wonder how old they are? 

“Clams are easy to age. Snail shells are kind of hard. If you’re going to age a clam, you put your finger back on the hinge and run it lightly over to the farthest edge. What you’re going to feel are bumps and the bumps are spaced. Count the bumps. The clams are constantly putting out shells which make the rings. The bumps are winters. The layers build up, which is a winter. When there’s an abundance of food, they’re growing faster,” Sue said. 

The shells are always on their way back to nature.  

“The shells will disintegrate eventually. If you take sand and look at it under the scope, you would see pieces of shell,” Sue said.  

There are some common shells that you might find on a walk. 

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“Surf clams, blue mussels, pieces of whelks; if they’re whole whelks, they get picked up pretty quick,” said Sue.  

You might find some shells that look like they were made for jewelry. 

“If they have one perfectly beveled round hole and it’s close to the hinge, that means that that clam was murdered by a moon snail. Moon snails have a file on their tongue so they’ll take the clam and lick it to create a hole,” said Sue. 

The animals who lived in the shells that you find don’t live too far out in the ocean. 

“A lot of them are within just a couple hundred feet. They aren’t going to be out far. Unless we get a storm that really shifts things around,” said Sue. 

There is a kind of shell that she’s been seeing more of. 

“Sand dollars, I’m seeing more of them. Now they’ve always been here but they’ve been out a little bit deeper. Now they’re coming in and I’m seeing more of them. I’m suspecting climate change. I was just down on Townsend’s Inlet. I was finding these tiny whole sand dollars. I think the largest might have been the size of a dime,” said Sue.

What kind of shells do you usually find?  

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