Rules of Beachcombing

I’m heading to Hawaii in a few days. I’m excited to see the state but equally excited to go beachcombing. I’m concerned though that whatever I might find (glass, shells, etc) won’t be able to make it home with me. There are laws in coastal states regarding what you can take. Here’s the run down:

In Hawaii, you need a permit if you want to take specimens for a reef tank or education.   Without a permit you are forbidden to take Stoney Coral, live rocks, Pink Coral, Gold Coral from the waters of Hawaii.

“Chapter 171.58.5 of Hawai`i Revised Statutes states:

Prohibitions. The mining or taking of sand, dead coral or coral rubble, rocks, soil or other marine deposits seaward from the shoreline is prohibited with the following exceptions:(1) The taking from seaward of the shoreline of such materials, not in excess of one gallon per person per day for reasonable, personal, noncommercial use;

The other three exceptions are to allow replenishment or protection of public shoreline areas, clearing of stream mouths, and cleaning of areas seaward of the shoreline for state or county maintenance.

Taking of sand on a regular basis for use as a product for sale would be considered as constituting a commercial use, which is not permissible.”

Action Sports Maui.com states that it’s best to leave chunks of coral and shells on the beach. They say that since the beach is made of crushed coral and shells, leaving them there will promote further beach enhancement. That’s sound environmental thinking. They did suggest that if you do find that special shell, as long as there is not a live creature inside, take it. I have not found any laws against beachcombing other than coral, rocks and soil and since my main interest is sea glass, I think I’m safe there.

Collecting live specimens on most beaches in America is prohibited by law but in some cases hard to manage the law so items do “walk” off the beaches and into peoples homes, schools, and the suitcases in your car’s trunk.   I had an uninvited live specimen one day from Turtle Beach in FL.  It was quite stinky but made for a great story.

The sand bars off Siesta Key, FL, are a great place to find sand dollars.  I have hundreds of white sand dollar tests.  We found a family, one day, collecting live ones and displaying them on the beach along the wrack line.  Consequently, the sand dollars were dying.  A passerby hastily began throwing them back in the water, while scolding this family.  A few sand dollars had already died.  I was interested in the event and took a few trying to revive them but they were not moving even one fine spine.  Being a 4H leader, I knew at this point it was ok to take these specimens.  I have three of them from that day that I’ve used for education in 4H, science lessons, art lessons and marine biology.  I donated one to a nature center in Alabama. Children are fascinated that sand dollars aren’t originally white (they are green and furry) and that the white part is really the skeleton or test of a living creature.  I use this story to promote conservation.

Visitors to Florida beaches (non-residents) must have a fishing license before collecting live specimens.  You can take up to 20  invertibrates per person per day.  There is a limit on things you can take, for instance, it is unlawful to possess Fan Corals, Hard Corals, Fire Corals, Black Coral, FL Queen Conch, Bahama Starfish and Longspine Urchin except with a permit from the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. You cannot harvest live rock in FL State waters.  But, there are great shells along the Florida coast from the west to the east and the Keys; Sanibel Island being the best known for shelling.  Do take and enjoy what you find but remember to check for the live creature inside.  If it’s there, throw it back.  You will find another shell like it.

Regardless of where you are traveling, even to your own local beach, find out the laws.  When in doubt, check with your hotel (stateside or abroad) or the local Fish & Wildlife office in the state you are visiting.

Shipwrecks dot the oceans and the Gulf of Mexico, most notably around North Carolina and in the Carribbean.  The Outerbanks and Florida Keys are great places to find old items washed up after storms.  These could be from shipwrecks or remnants of someones house once destroyed by a hurricane.  I didn’t find any laws regarding shipwreck finds from the various coastal states.  Grab a shovel and a metal detector if you plan to hunt for treasure.

In other countries, items from shipwrecks washing ashore may have to stay in that country.  Take Belize, for example.  A friend, whose family lives there, was telling me of antique glass bottles that wash ashore supposedly from one of the many shipwrecks (they are from the late 1800s, early 1900s).  Her family has found other relics that they keep around their home.  They’d be thrown in jail or heavily fined if caught with any of these items in their luggage on a plane leaving the country so if you find any, leave them.  Most shells aren’t allowed out of the country either. Be sure to check local laws.  A vacation is nice, but an extended one in jail is not.

Since I live in Alabama, I can’t leave out our beachcombing and shelling laws.  I really can’t find any.  So take what you find except for live critters.  Many homes were carried out to sea in the last 6 to 7 years from hurricanes.  Some items are finding their way onto our shore.  Keep your eyes open.

In Texas, Galveston is said to be “The” place to beachcomb.  And, I read where the Fish and Wildlife people have stated the Gulf of Mexico beaches are the best in the country for shelling. I’ve been to Sanibel and was not disappointed.  Venice Beach, FL is great for fossils and shark teeth, Turtle Beach, FL, at what used to be Midnight Pass, is excellent also.

So, all of the laws I’ve found regarding beachcombing have pertained to specimen collecting.  There seem to be no shells that are so “rare” that you can’t take them, but even so it would be hard to enforce.  There is one place that enforcement, I’m told, is active and that is Glass Beach, California. The beach is property of the California State Park system and the taking of glass is prohibited.  The area was once a dumping ground for Ft. Bragg residents.  Fires were occasionally set to minimize the trash.  Years of surf pounding has broken up the remaining trash the beach is a beautiful collection of colored glass.  There are other trash items on this beach so wear sturdy shoes and keep a 1st Aid kit in case you cut yourself and leave the sea glass there.

Hawaii has a Glass Beach, too.  It’s on Kauai.  I doubt I’ll get there since we’re going to Oahu but I have read that sea glass hunting on Waikiki Beach is awesome.  I’ll find out soon and now that I know the laws, I will be bringing some home.

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