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FLORIDA’S

This book is a guide to the natural history

F L O R I D A’ S
of Florida beaches. It heralds the living
things and metaphorical life near, on, and

LIVING BEACHES
within the state’s sandy margins.
Beginning with the premise that beaches
are themselves alive, the book outlines
how this is so. Featured are more than
A Guide for the Curious Beachcomber 800 accounts with images and maps

LIVING BEACHES
organized into Beach Features, Beach
Animals, Beach Plants, Beach Minerals,
and Hand of Man.
Blair and Dawn Witherington are pro- In addition to being an identification
fessional naturalists. Blair is a research guide, the book reveals much of the won-
scientist with the FWC Fish and Wildlife der and mystery between dune and sea
Research Institute. He has baccalaureate along Florida’s long coastline. Each part
and master’s degrees in biology from the of a living beach is shown to have its
University of Central Florida and a doc- own unique intrigue, with featured diver-
torate in zoology from the University of sity that includes wrack lines, runnels,
Florida. He has contributed numerous ripples, sea foam, hurricanes, jellies, blue
scientific articles and book chapters on buttons, hundreds of seashells, beachhop-
sea turtle biology and conservation. His pers, ghost crabs, tiger beetles, heart
books include an edited volume on the A guide to the natural history of Florida beaches urchins, sea pork, surf fishes, sea turtles,
loggerhead sea turtle and a popular book with 985 color images, 431 maps, and dozens of shore birds, beach mice, tracks
on sea turtles. Dawn is a graphic design in the sand, whales, beach flowers, dune
artist and scientific illustrator trained at descriptive accounts of 822 items. plants, seabeans, driftwood, rainbow
the Art Institutes of Colorado and Ft. sands, shelly rocks, volcanic pumice, fos-
Lauderdale. Her art and design are promi- sils, beach shrines, seaglass, Spanish
nent in natural history books, posters, Florida has 1200 miles of coastline, almost 700 miles treasure, sea heroes, fishing curiosities,
exhibits, and a line of sea-themed greet- beach threats, conservation, and quests.
ing cards. Together, Blair and Dawn have of which are sandy beaches. Exploring along those
Whether common or rare, powerful or
merged their art, writing, photography, beaches offers encounters with myriads of plants, delicate, beautiful or odd, each part of a
and design within a number of projects,
animals, minerals, and manmade objects—all are living beach has a story to tell.
including Florida’s Seashells: A
Beachcomber’s Guide (Pineapple Press).
covered extensively in this comprehensive guide.
Each a Florida native, Blair and Dawn
share a fascination with the wilder parts of
the state. They had their first date on a

WITHERINGTON
windswept beach, married in 1998, and
began satisfying their mutual compulsion
to seek, collect, catalogue, photograph, $21.95
identify, and research the diversity of
Florida’s beaches. Their quest left sandy
footprints from the Florida Panhandle
Blair and Dawn
WITHERINGTON
south through the Keys and northward to
the Georgia border. They have learned that Pineapple Press, Inc., Sarasota, Florida
beaches are places where beauty abounds, Pineapple Press, Inc.
wonders are spontaneous, and footprints Cover design by Dawn Witherington
fill quickly. And so the quest continues. . . . Cover photographs by Blair Witherington
F L O R I D A’ S
LIVING BEACHES
A Guide for the Curious Beachcomber
F L O R I D A’ S
LIVING BEACHES
A Guide for the Curious Beachcomber

Blair and Dawn Witherington

Pineapple Press, Inc.


Sarasota, Florida
To our parents Contents
Acknowledgments and Photo Credits . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . vii
Front Cover Photographs Back Cover Florida’s Top Fifty Living Beaches . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . viii
Introduction . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . ix
St. Joseph Peninsula beach Great blue heron (Ardea herodias) Guide Organization . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . x
Hatchling loggerhead sea turtle
Front Flap Beach Features
(Caretta caretta)
Rough scallops (Lindapecten muscosus) Common purple sea snail What Is a Beach Feature? . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 2
Royal tern (Sterna maxima) (Janthina janthina) Beach Anatomy . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 3
Blue button (Porpita porpita) Dunes . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 6
Lined sea star (Luidia clathrata) Salt Pruning . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 7
Pelagic sargassum (Sargassum fluitans) Wrack Lines . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 8
Hamburger beans (Mucuna spp.) Beach Cusps and Scarps . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 9
Railroad vine (Ipomoea pes-caprae) Sand Ripples . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 10
Seaglass
Dark Sands and Shell Hash . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 11
Text, photographs, and illustrations copyright © 2007 by Blair and Dawn Witherington Swash and Backwash . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 12
unless otherwise noted. Sea Foam . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 13
Sand Erosion . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 14
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any Sand Accretion . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 15
means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any informa- Sandbars . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 16
tion storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher. Ridges and Runnels (Beach Lagoons) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 17
Inquiries should be addressed to: Tides . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 18
Waves and Surf . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 19
Pineapple Press, Inc. Nearshore Currents . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 21
P.O. Box 3889 Offshore Currents . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 22
Sarasota, Florida 34230 Beach Weather . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 23
www.pineapplepress.com Hurricanes and Other Storms . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 25
Red Tide . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 26
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Water Color . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 27
Inlets and Passes . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 28
Witherington, Blair E., 1962-
Florida’s living beaches : a guide for the curious beachcomber / Blair and Dawn Barrier Islands . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 29
Witherington. – 1st ed. Beaches at Night . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 30
p. cm. Beach Animals
Includes index. What Are Beach Animals? . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 32
ISBN 978-1-56164-386-8 (pbk. : alk. paper) Forams and Swash Meiofauna . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 33
1. Seashore animals—Florida—Identification. 2. Seashore plants—Florida—
Sponges . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 34
Identification. 3. Beaches—Florida. 4. Beachcombing—Florida. I. Witherington,
Dawn. II. Title. Jellylike Animals . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 38
QL169.W58 2007 Floating Hydralike Animals . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 40
591.769’9—dc22 Other Hydroids . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 42
2006100378 Sea Pansies . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 43
Anemones . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 44
First Edition
Corals . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 45
10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
Shell Anatomy . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 48
Design by Blair and Dawn Witherington Gastropods . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 49
Printed in China Bivalves . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 86

v
CONTENTS CONTENTS, ACKNOWLEDGMENTS, AND PHOTO CREDITS

Itty-Bitty Shells . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 118 Container Seals and Packaging . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 293


Shell Wars (Shell Bioerosion) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 119 Fishing Discards . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 294
Shell Color Variation and Mollusk Bits and Pieces . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 120 Balloons, Fireworks, and Shotgun Discards . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 300
Scaphopods and Cephalopods . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 121 Wax, Tar, and Oil . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 301
Bryozoans . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .122 Beach Grooming, Driving, Crossovers, and Sand Fences . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 302
Worms . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 123 Armoring, Groynes, and Jetties . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 303
Crustaceans . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 125 Artificial Nourishment . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 304
Horseshoe Crab . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 134 Lighthouses and Houses of Refuge . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 305
Insects . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 135 Conservation . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 306
Echinoderms . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 138 Beach Quests . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 308
Tunicates . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 143 The Future of Living Beaches . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 310
Fishes . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 145 Resources and Suggested Reading . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 313
Reptiles . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 149 Index . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 314
Birds . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 158
Land Mammals . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 196 Acknowledgments and Photo Credits
Marine Mammals . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 200
Verte-bits . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 202 For their contributions, reviews, and advice we are greatly indebted to Dean Bagley,
Alice Bard, Mike Blanchard, Michael Bresette, Paul Choate, Meghan Conti, Terry
Beach Plants
Doonan, Curtis Ebbesmeyer, Kevin Edwards, the Florida Fish and Wildlife
What Are Beach Plants? . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 204
Conservation Commission, Bill Frank, Mac Hatcher, Laura Herren, Shigetomo
Dune Plants—Grasses . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 205
Hirama, Karen Holloway-Adkins, Inwater Research Group, Ron Johns, Steve
Dune Plants—Yuccas and Palms . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 208
Johnson, Suzanne Kennedy (www.floravista.com), Maura Kraus, Stacy Kubis, Adam
Dune Plants—Other Monocots . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 211
Lambert, Kevin Lilly, Ray Mojica, Ed Perry, Tom Pitchford, Anne Rudloe, Jack
Dune Plants—Herbs and Flowers . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 212
Rudloe, Megan Stolen, and Ricardo Zambrano.
Dune Plants—Woody Shrubs and Trees . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 227
Marine Plants—Algae . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 235 Photographs are © Blair Witherington and Dawn Witherington unless listed below:
Marine Plants—Seagrasses . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 242
Seabeans and Drift Seeds . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 244 Page 21 top, © Collier County Page 159 bottom, © Shutterstock Inc.
Driftwood & Woody Materials . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 271 Property Appraiser Page 165 bottom, © Kevin Edwards
Page 23 bottom, © Shutterstock, Inc. Page 171 center, © Kevin Edwards
Beach Minerals
Page 24 bottom, © Shutterstock, Inc. Page 172 center, © Kevin Edwards
What Are Beach Minerals? . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 278
Page 25 top, courtesy of NOAA Page 172 bottom, © Kevin Edwards
Florida Beach Sands . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 279
Page 25 center, courtesy of USGS Page 191 bottom, © Kevin Edwards
Rocky Beaches . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 280
Page 26 top, © Photodisc, Inc. Page 192 bottom, © Ricardo Zambrano
Beach Stone, Worm Rock, and Pumice . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 281
Page 26 top, © Photodisc, Inc. Page 195 top, © Kevin Edwards
Coquina . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 282
Page 26 bottom, courtesy of NASA Page 195 center, © Kevin Edwards
Fossils . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 283
Page 28 bottom, © Sebastian Inlet SP Page 196 bottom, © Shutterstock Inc.
The Hand of Man Page 29 top, © Collier County Page 197 all, © Florida FWC
What Have We Had a Hand In? . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 286 Property Appraiser Page 198 top, © Steve Johnson
Beach Shrines and Sand Castles . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 287 Page 29 bottom, © Environmentally Page 198 center, © Shutterstock Inc.
Treasure and Dunnage . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 288 Endangerd Lands Program, Brevard Page 200 top, © Shutterstock Inc.
Ships and Boats . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 289 Page 43 top, © Bill Frank Page 200 center, © Tom Pitchford
Sondes and Rocket Parts . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 290 Page 43 bottom, © Dave Norris Page 200 bottom, © Tom Pitchford
Sea Heroes (Drift Toys) and Seaglass (Beach Glass) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 291 Page 152 center, © Stacy Kubis Page 201 bottom, © Hubbs SeaWorld
Balls and Nurdles . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 292 Page 157 top, © Shigetomo Hirama Page 301 bottom, courtesy of NOAA

vi vii
F L O R I D A’ S TOP FIFTY LIVING BEACHES INTRODUCTION

Florida’s Top Fifty Living Beaches The Beaches are Alive!


Every Florida beach has life, but some beaches stand out as vibrant examples of nat- Yes, Florida’s beaches are alive. Some of this beach-life is obvious. Stroll onto the
ural processes free to run their course. These are not beaches devoid of humans (many beach, sink your toes in the sand, and look around you. On the dune-front, gulls glide
are among the most visited shores in the state). But they are beaches where our influ- above flagging sea oats. On the open beach, crabs toss sand from their burrows. And
ence has been more casual than insistent. In geographic order the list includes: at the tide line, shorebirds busily poke and turn the clumps of seaweed.
Look closer and you'll see even greater evidence of life. The seashore is vibrant
with dozens of dune-plant species; a diverse array of seashells; birds that dive, run,
EMERALD
COAST
wade and soar; and the wrack—that ever-changing line of formerly floating drift-stuff
from faraway.
FIRST Clearly, beaches attract, foster, and collect life . . . and the testament of life. But
COAST
in an important way, beaches are also alive themselves. Beaches and dunes grow, dimin-
NATURE ish, evolve over years, and shift with the seasons. To pulsate with change is the very
COAST nature of a sandy sea coastline. Such change is the essence of what makes beaches
so fascinating.
In the long term, beaches are tumultuous, even dangerous places. Yet, a short-
1. Santa Rosa Island term visit allows a pleasant acquaintance with the beauty generated by all that tur-
2. Topsail Hill to moil. Beaches are the easily accessible margins of a spectacular wilderness—the sea.
Grayton Beach SPACE To visit a beach is to peer into that wilderness and even examine it closely, for much
3. St. Andrews Beach COAST
and Shell Island
of the sea’s mysterious nature ends up on its beaches.
4. Crooked Island We hope that this book will provide some helpful interpretation for the curious
5. St. Joseph Peninsula CULTURAL
TREASURE seashore visitor. In part, it is a guide to critters, plants, formations, and stuff that might
COAST
6. St. Vincent Island COAST be puzzling enough to go nameless without a little assistance. But an additional aspect
7. St. George Island of this book is to share the mystery and intrigue of many things that are easily iden-
8. Dog Island tified but little known. From the elegant to the plain, from the provocative to the mun-
LEE ISLAND
9. Alligator Point
COAST
dane, everything on a beach has a story to tell.
10. Anclote Keys
11. Honeymoon Island 27. Dry Tortugas GOLD
COAST
12. Caladesi Island 28. Boca Grande Key
13. Mullet & Shell Keys 29. Bahia Honda Key
14. Egmont Key 30. Long Key
15. Midnight Pass Beach, 31. Elliott Key
Casey Key 32. Cape Florida
16. Caspersen Beach, 33. Lloyd Beach
Manasota Key 34. Spanish River
17. Stump Pass and Don to South Beach
Pedro Is. (Little Gasparilla) Parks, Boca Raton
18. Cayo Costa 35. MacArthur Beach
19. Captiva Island 36. Blowing Rocks Preserve 43. North Peninsula Beach
20. Sanibel Island 37. Hobe Sound Refuge 44. Washington Oaks Beach
21. Lovers Key 38. Walton Rocks to 45. Ft. Matanzas Beach
22. Barefoot Beach Ft. Pierce, Hutchinson Is. 46. Anastasia Island
23. Keewadin, Rookery Bay 39. Archie Carr Refuge 47. Guana River Beach
24. Tigertail Beach, Marco Is. 40. Cape Canaveral 48. Little Talbot Island
25. Cape Romano 41. Canaveral Seashore 49. Southern Amelia Island
26. Cape Sabal 42. Smyrna Dunes 50. Fort Clinch
A lined sea star awakens on the beach at low tide

viii ix
GUIDE ORGANIZATION

How the Story Unfolds


This book is organized into sections dividing major groups of beach stuff—Beach
Features, Beach Animals, Beach Plants, Beach Minerals, and Hand of Man. Within
each section, groups of related items are presented together and share an identifying
icon at the top corner of the page.
Most items have a map showing where and when one might find it on a Florida
beach. These ranges pertain specifically to an item’s beach distribution, which may
be different from the places it occupies when not on a beach. For instance, many of
the plants that produce drifting seeds known as seabeans live far away within inland
tropical rainforests. Few of these plants live in Florida, but their attractive floating
seeds show up on Florida beaches at particular places and times (due to rivers, ocean
currents, and weather). Coastal lines on the maps are red if they describe a warm-sea-
son distribution and blue if they describe a range during cooler months. Purple lines
pertain to all seasons. Each line is solid where an item is relatively common, and is
dotted where relatively uncommon. Because the range maps are not absolute, a gap
may indicate either rarity or uncertainty. All maps show a gap along Florida’s Big
Bend, where the marshy, submerged coastline has little or no sandy beach.

Warm Season Cool Season All Seasons

Relatively Relatively Relatively


Common Common Common

Relatively Relatively Relatively


Uncommon Uncommon Uncommon

Because this is a guide to beach-found things, all the depictions are of things
found on a beach. That is, some are likely to show a beach-worn look. Although
we’ve tried to represent the living elegance of creatures, some are merely deceased
lumps and blobs by the time they reach a beach.
Note that where an item’s size is given, the measure refers to maximum length or
height unless otherwise indicated. Also note that a few featured items hold the poten-
tial for an unpleasant encounter. These will have a hands-off symbol , which we
hope you will see before you put one of these items in your pocket.
Rather than simply set the scene, introduce a cast of characters, and leave you
hanging, we’ve tried to end with the motivation for an endeavor, or as we refer to
them, quests. These target a selection of rare, beautiful, or otherwise compelling
hope-to-finds that can provide a blanket excuse for beach adventure.

Blair and Dawn Witherington

x
BEACH FEATURES BEACH FEATURES

What is a Beach Feature? Beach Anatomy


Beach features are life-signs of the beach itself. These signs reveal a beach’s rela- Each visit to a Florida beach is unique. No two beaches are exactly alike, and at any
tionships, growth, withdrawal, and restless movement (yes, beaches move). Although given beach, every day is different. But despite their dynamic forms, beaches tend to
much of this book describes beach things, this Beach Features section deals mostly share a common anatomy that is predictable based on location and season.
with processes and the evidence they leave. You may have noticed that Florida beaches have a lot of sand. Most of this sand
Beach features help describe the relationship between land and sea. Some may is quartz (once part of the Appalachian Mountains), although Florida Keys beaches
see this relationship as a battle, but another view sees an association with mutual are largely carbonate grit from the crushed skeletons of coralline algae and crusty crit-
exchange. However harsh or congenial it is, one of the most important elements in the ters. Shell bits make up most of the rest of our beach sands, which also have variable
land-sea relationship is sand. The land stakes claim to former seabottom blown into amounts of heavy sediments like metal oxides. Sand character varies between
mounds (the dune) and covers its claim with pioneering greenery. But the sand is just beaches, seasons, and the parts of a beach’s anatomy. Finer grains are found on
a loan. In the economy of sand, this currency shifts between land and sea, between beaches fronting calm seas (like the Gulf of Mexico), during calm summer months,
undersea features, between beach elevations, and between adjacent beaches. The fluid and in dunes. Coarser grains are found on steep, rough beaches, during winter, and on
dynamics of this bustling economy can be read in a beach’s features. To an educated the lower beach.
eye, beach features are both telling evidence of history and indicators for prediction. Within each beach, anatomy is laid out relative to elevation above the sea. These
The give-and-take between land and sea also involves energy. As you’ll see, beach zones range from high, dry, and occasionally wave-washed (the dune), to fre-
beach features include exchanges of heat, wind, waves, and biological material that quently wave-washed (the backshore), to constantly wave-washed (the foreshore).
further define the beach economy. Further seaward are two zones critical to the beach (and formerly beach themselves):
To a true beach aficionado, an otherwise pedestrian pile of sand offers a host of the nearshore and offshore zones.
signs exclaiming a beach’s beating pulse. Sensing that pulse is basic to understanding Within each zone are the lumps, bumps, dips, waves, and wave-washed stuff that
what beaches are all about and can add wonder and intrigue to a coastal visit. further describe a beach’s structure. The dune scarp, if present, marks the elevation

A Typical Florida Beach


at High Tide

SUMMER BEACH PROFILE

WINTER BEACH PROFILE

Good fishermen can read the features of a beach and surf to find their catch Dune and beach profiles change with the seasons and following events such as storms

3
BEACH FEATURES BEACH FEATURES

where recent storms have swept away A beachcomber who knows a little
dune sands. Between the dune base and beach anatomy and coastal weather
the daily high-tide mark lie one or more often finds the best beach stuff. The
wrack lines, the piles of marine organ- ocean scatters its varied treasures in dif-
isms (mostly seaweed) that in their ferent beach zones depending on its D
death bring life to the beach. The high- mood (sea conditions). C
est average tide generally reaches the Combing the swash zone (A) at low
berm, a sandy platform between the flat tide is the best way to find small and del- B
backshore and the sloped foreshore. icate seashells. When a stiff onshore
Beach meets sea at the swash zone, wind is blowing, this is also the place to
A
where waves rush the sandy incline and find blue animals (oceanic drifters). The
wash back into the following breaker. recent high-tide line at mid-beach (B) is
Often, this final pounding of wave normally the best place to find large or
energy creates a step-down into a fluttery shells, buoyant items like
trough landward of the breaker zone. seabeans, and invertebrates like sponges Lettered areas show where to find beach treasures
The breakers begin where the offshore and soft corals. Keep in mind that the
bar presents a rise shallow enough to high-tide wrack from previous days may
trip incoming waves. have been higher up the beach (C),
All of this anatomy changes between where drift treasures can be found if they
winter and summer, storm and calm. have not been covered with sand. The
Compared to a summer beach fronting largest waves during the highest tides
calm seas, winter and storm beaches sweep up the beach to the storm wrack
tend to be steeper with little or no berm (D), which is often at the base of the
and a distant offshore bar. Artificially dune. Although wrack-hunting is fruitful
nourished (man-made) beaches begin for almost anything immediately after a
with an engineered anatomy but equili- storm, even months-old storm wrack
brate over a period of years as the sea yields persistent, storm-stranded items
sculpts the foreshore, then backshore, like big shells, seabeans, driftwood, and
then dune. lost cargo. Storm wrack on infrequently
Florida’s beaches vary according to combed beaches is filled with rare finds. Old storm-wrack provides the seed for a new dune
how they dissipate or reflect waves. Beach anatomy becomes less eso-
Dissipating beaches are flat with fine teric and more real to visitors who expe-
sands, variable width, and have most of rience features forming before their eyes.
their sand in long offshore bars. Aeolian (wind-driven) transport of sand
Northeast Florida has predominantly is but one of these watchable develop-
dissipating beach types. Reflective mental processes. To experience sand
beaches are steep with coarse sands, flowing over a beach on a breezy day is
consistently narrow width, and have to witness the origins and pulsation of
most of their sands within the upper many beach features. As sand rolls across
beach and foredune. Reflective beaches the beach, some features are exposed,
make up most of Florida’s central others are buried, sand ripples march
Atlantic coast. Beaches that are interme- with the wind, and the growth of a dune
diate between these two types are com- from seed begins at a seaweed clump that
mon along the Gulf coast. had drifted at sea for hundreds of miles.
An Atlantic beach in a winter profile Aeolian transport of sand

4 5
BEACH FEATURES BEACH FEATURES

Dunes Salt Pruning

WHAT ARE THEY? Dunes are piles WHAT IS IT? Salt pruning describes
of wind-blown sand stabilized by fast- the trimming effects of salt spray. This
growing, salt-tolerant “pioneer” plants. process creates dune shrubs and trees
Although the primary (most seaward) with a sloping-hedge appearance.
dune may be swept by storm tides every
SIZE: Salt spray can sculpt century-old
few years, the more stable back dunes
live oaks into wavelike forms that are
Central Atlantic coast often support semi-permanent woody Sea grape
knee-high on their seaward side and
vegetation between severe storms.
well overhead on their protected side.
Dunes are part of a sand “banking” sys-
tem in which the beach makes continu- HOW COME? Salt spray from breaking
ous deposits and withdrawals. waves settles on the outer leaves of dune
plants. Evaporation of this spray leaves
SIZE: Small mounds to promontories
behind concentrated salt that can enter
more than 40 ft (12 m) high.
leaves through abrasions caused by wind-
HOW COME? Dunes form when whipping. The salt gradually kills the most
onshore winds blow beach sand into exposed, windward leaves. This trimming
wind shadows behind old wrack lines stimulates extensive branching, which
and vegetation. Pioneer plants colonize produces dense, windward canopies.
these sand spits, their roots keep the sand Salt pruning results in bonsai-looking
from migrating windward, and the dune shrubs that lean away from the sea. Like
grows into a shore-parallel dune ridge. bonsai, the beautiful forms of salt-pruned
Southern Gulf coast dune shrubs are acquired over decades. Sand live oak
FOUND: All beaches. Keys dunes tend
to be small. Larger dunes form where FOUND: Beaches with mature dunes
there is a strong sea breeze, extensive and woody vegetation. Northeast Florida
sand supply, and unfettered plant growth. and the Panhandle have some of the most
Beachfront development often levels the picturesque examples of salt pruning.
dune and prevents reformation.
SEASONS: All seasons, although most
SEASONS: All year. Rapid erosion and of the actual pruning occurs during the
formation can occur during hurricanes. driest months when there is little rain to
wash salt from exposed leaves.
DID YOU KNOW? Dune formation
has made much of the Florida we see DID YOU KNOW? Salt-spray resist-
today. Dig a hole into the peninsula and ance dictates which plants exist on the
you will likely find sand that was blown dune. Survivors of this torture benefit
from a beach into an ancient dune. by having few plant-competitors.
The Panhandle has some of Florida’s largest dunes Yaupon holly

6 7
BEACH FEATURES BEACH FEATURES

Wrack Lines Beach Cusps and Scarps

Beach Cusps Beach Scarps


WHAT ARE THEY? Wrack lines, or
strand lines, are lengthy piles of floating WHAT ARE THEY? Cusps are waves
marine stuff that has washed in with the in the sand on the lower beach, cresting
tide. Wrack tends to be composed mostly and dipping at regular intervals. Scarps
of the alga sargassum, uprooted sea- are cliffs in the beach marking the recent
grasses, and reedy marsh plants. Much line where erosion has taken sand.
Seagrass wrack in the Florida Keys of this book contains descriptions of the SIZE: Cusps and scarps are generally
varied animals, plants, and debris that 1–6 ft (0.3–2 m) high. Scarps following
occur in the wrack. hurricanes can be 12 ft (3.5 m) or more.
SIZE: Although knee-high piles are HOW COME? Cusps form when per-
common following rough weather, sistent winds blow at an oblique angle to
under calm conditions a beach may be the beach. These winds drive the long-
starved of wrack for weeks. shore current and the “edge wave” in the
HOW COME? Everything that goes surf, which create a series of circulations Partially scarped beach cusps
around comes around. This is especially that crest sand into cusps. Scarps form
true for organisms floating at sea. After due to rapid erosion, often within a single
years of roundabout travel in surface tidal cycle. They form following storms
currents, these plants and animals often or after periods of sand buildup (accre-
end up on a beach somewhere. tion). Scarps form when there are stiff
winds and a strong longshore current.
FOUND: All beaches, although the com-
Sargassum wrack on the mid-Atlantic coast FOUND: All beaches. Steep beaches
ponents of the wrack vary by region. There
may be many wrack lines on a beach with coarse-grained sands have the most
indicating where the tides have reached. pronounced cusps. Many artificial (nour-
Old wrack may remain high on the beach ished) beaches have persistent scarps
for weeks before disappearing under sand. because of the cementing nature of arti-
ficially pumped sands.
SEASONS: Wrack lines can be exten-
sive in fall and spring following storms. SEASONS: Cusps are common in sum-
mer as beaches are building and scarps
DID YOU KNOW? At the end of their are common in the stormier fall, winter,
life’s journey, the plants and animals that and spring.
wash onto beaches provide the base of an
important beach food web. Many of the DID YOU KNOW? Cusps move slowly
beach’s most appealing animals would be in wave-like fashion down the beach.
absent were it not for the lowly wrack. Large scarps in the dune can persist for
years.
A ruddy turnstone forages in the wrack A collapsing beach scarp
8 9

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