Beachcombing on Alabama’s Shore

I’m a beachcomber. I love to hunt the beaches for treasures. My collection of shells and trinkets is large. I’ve been to beaches on the east coast from Delaware to South Florida. I’ve hunted on the Gulf coast from South Florida to Corpus Christie. I have sea glass, toys, broken oars, nurdles, crab pot floats, surf wax and carnauba wax. I have sea beans and drift seeds of all kinds. Shark teeth, corals, fossils, dried up man o’ war and algae specimens, urchin spines and tests, sea stars and sand dollars. You get the idea.

When I lived in FL, I bought a book by Blair and Dawn Witheringon called Florida’s Living Beaches and promised myself I’d collect or see everything in the book and more. I’m pretty close to it. Some items they have found, I haven’t and visa versa. The book includes two sections on plants and animals which I’ve been checking off as well.

Coastal Cleanup, the annual clean-the-beaches activity, has allowed me to find some cool items as well. Although I’ve picked up mostly trash that gets thrown out, I have been known to set a few things aside for my collection.

Beachingcombing on Alabama’s shores is interesting in that there’s not much here. On my many trips to the Gulf Shores, Orange Beach, Bon Secour National Beach and Dauphin Island I’ve come up fairly empty handed. Shells are not plentiful here. The reason a beach has a lot of shells is because there is a lot of sea grass nearby.  Sea grass beds are a place for gastropods, echinoderms and others marine creatures to live.  These beds provide both protection from preditors and a food source.  The Alabama coast has very little sea grass.  Dauphin Island, especially the west end, may be an exception for the area, though. I’ve seen an over abundance of hermit crabs there with various shells attached to them, although mostly oyster drills. (This may just be from marsh grass habitats, not sea grass.) Not a collectors jubilee but these moving shells are fascinating to watch and observe. It’s a good idea not to take any of these home. First they are salt water/brackish water creatures and in order to keep them alive you need a salt water or marsh tank. Second, they’ll die before you get home and your car will stink. Best to leave them alone, have a seat in the sand and watch them.

I read on internet sea glass forums that Dauphin Island was “the” place to hunt for sea glass. That must have been written by one person who had a good day, or was delusional. I’ve searched the beach and found nothing more than a few small shells and a few seagull feathers.  My place for seaglass is in Fairhope along the Mobile Bay.  I find mostly brown glass (beer bottle remnants from a day on the boat) but I’ve had days when green is plentiful. 

East of Mobile Bay, the beaches are beautiful but almost shell-less until you get well into Florida. You can find, in small quantities, the small coquina clams and a few tellins, some mussels, ceriths and augers, and venus clams. A friend did tell me that one day Blue Buttons washed ashore, but they are related to Jellyfish (which we have a lot of on our coast) and don’t need sea grass like other creatures do.  More often than not you’ll find jellies, algae of all kinds, mole crabs, drift wood and an occasional tar ball. I’ve never found a washed up toy although I seen many left behind on the beach.  I do have 2 pottery shards from different items.  My guess is they are household remains from a past hurricane.

Once in a while there will be a great find.  Following Hurricane Isaac just this summer, the remains of what some people think is a blockade runner from the Civil War surfaced on the beach in Gulf Shores.  It had appeared slowly from 2 other hurricanes but Isaac moved more sand around revealing more of the boat’s skeleton.  I’ll head to the beach soon to check it out but it’s nothing that I can add to my collection.  Just a memory and a great story.

Beachcombing on Alabama’s shore is not as fun as other beaches I’ve lived on or visited but I keep walking the beach and looking each time I go because you just never know when you’ll find something interesting.  I don’t purposely go to any of the Alabama beaches in search of something (other than R&R and a good tan) and I won’t bet the house that I’ll have a great find, but I’ll have fun.

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11 thoughts on “Beachcombing on Alabama’s Shore

  1. Robin Sneath says:

    Hi, We’ve been in Pensacola beach before looking and finding a lot of shells. Thinking about Port St Joe for finding shells. How is the area there?

    • Eileen Saunders says:

      I have had some great luck at Port St Joe. Beach combing can be the-luck-of-the-draw, but I’ve been lucky several times there. Have a great time!

      • Eileen Saunders says:

        There really isn’t a best place to find shells along that coast. Some days you’ll find nothing, other days there will be a great deal of small bivalves (coquinas, Lady in Waiting) and some sand dollars. The coast needs a habitat for gastropods and bivalves and from what I understand that habitat is not very large so there aren’t a ton of shells. I took the family to Panama City Beach and we took a boat ride to Shell Island. It is supposed to be a great place to find shells. As we walked from the boat to the beach, folks were heading back to the boat with fulls bags of shells. We really didn’t find much. Luck of the draw or timing, tide, etc. But I still stand by Port St Joe and the barrier islands. I liked the St George Island State Park. I one time we walked around the beach in Carrabelle, east of PStJoe, and I found a bucket full. Have fun wherever you end up shelling.

  2. Roger says:

    We are at Orange Beach Alabama and the storm has washed up many things along an area behind Turquois Place. One beachcomber here said it’s their first time in 25 yrs. of coming here that they’ve seen starfish. We’ve been coming here for about 10 years and had never seen starfish.

    • Eileen Saunders says:

      I bet that’s a cool sight. Thanks for the note and enjoy the beach. Storms always provide the best beachcombing adventures.

  3. Sherry says:

    About a year after Hurricane Katrina we found lots of beautiful shells on Dauphin Island Alabama. They were everywhere.

  4. Michele Price says:

    Hi- we just returned from Gulf Shores and visit yearly. One of the things on my to-do list is always go shelling. Most of the years, I have come home with an abundance of shells. Keep in mind, all small ones. This year was a total bust. Only a handful of the same old same old. No sand dollars to be found or olives. I will say, we took the ferry to Dauphin Island three years ago ( first time there ) and I came back with several mermaid purses found on the beach. Granted, they were opened but we brought them home nonetheless. A cool find for my collection. I do wish there were good places to go and find the larger intact shells or rare ones I do not have. It’s a great hobby and way to pass the time.

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