Sea-what? Seaglunking. I never heard of it either until last week. No, it’s not some strange extreme scuba diving sport. It’s actually the sport of strolling the uncombed beaches searching for treasure troves of sea glass!
Sea glass is in season right now on the Jersey shore. Why is that? Well, the temperatures are above the frigid zone, so it makes for some nice outdoor time at the seashore. Plus, they haven’t started plowing and combing the beaches yet making the shoreline virtually shell free. All of the delicate seashells and smoothed over glass speckles can be found scattered on the sands, right after the waves break along the coastline, in clumps.
All I knew about sea glass until recently was that A) You can find it sometimes along the beaches, and B) It’s really pretty. I have a few nice blue, white, and green samples I decorate with in dishes and hurricane glasses around the house, interspersed with unique seashell finds.
But what caught my eye one day was a display of beautiful sea glass collected by Denise Paci-Chenavier, a self-proclaimed sea glass collector and former New Jersey resident. She now resides a bit far from the beautiful beaches off of the North Carolina coast, but she seaglunks whenever she can. She’s an avid river glass collector as well. Chenavier has an amazing collection of sea glass samples combined with an array of interesting seashells.
As a child Chenavier looked for shells on the beaches. Years later, her best friend Gina, started collecting sea glass and said, “Denise, I’ll take you to the beach. Grab a bag!” and that’s how her obsession began.
“We were like little kids digging for treasure,” said Chenavier, with excitement in her voice. Sometimes her two daughters Brittney and Kelsey join her on seaglunking adventures, too. “Kids love to do it. At any age people can go out and look for sea glass.”
Behind every piece of sea glass is a story. That’s what makes each find so much more than just the way it sparkles in the sunlight.
“Before glass was recycled, they dumped it in the ocean. Sometimes they melted it down before they dumped it, and you can see the ash in it and see the pieces were melted,” Chenavier explained. “New Jersey and Philadelphia had a lot of glass makers. In North Carolina most of the glass you see wash in comes from shipwrecks. Sea glass is rarer to find now because so much is made from plastic (and recycled).”
Chenavier says that if you really want to collect sea glass and learn about it, you should read what seaglunkers call the sea glass bible: Pure Sea Glass: Discovering Nature’s Vanishing Gems by Richard LaMotte is the ultimate sea glass reference book. It really explains the different kinds of mementos that wash up on shore, including tiles and porcelain, in addition to rounded, salt-washed colorful glass. Plus, the book makes a great tabletop conversation piece since it has really pretty pictures–which was the initial reason why I bought the book.
You actually need more than just a pair of flip flops and sunblock when you hit the beach when you are a serious seaglunker. Through experience Chenavier has learned that there are some tips and tricks for making your glass findings grow and conducting your search as easily as possible.
Chenavier’s first tip is to bring along a big, heavy duty canvas tote bag–just like the kind you may use when you go to the supermarket and bring your own bag. You don’t want to use regular plastic bags because they break with the weight of the glass and shells that you may collect. Buckets aren’t big enough and you can’t comfortably carry them on your shoulder. Of note, large canvas tote bags have a comfortable handle which you can place over your shoulder as you trudge along the coastline. And, these types of bags are deep enough to contain your new found treasures without spilling over when you bend down.
Walk slowly and scan the beach with your eyes. It’s not a race to see who can find something the fastest. You don’t want to miss something along the way.
Digging into a shell hash is a great way to find sea glass. Shell hashes are large groups of shells, driftwood, etc. washed up on the beach naturally. Sometimes they occur near bulkheads.
You want start your hunt right as the tide is going out. Sea glass is easy to see when it’s wet. Look near bulkheads and in piles of gritty stuff. It’s a myth that you will always find the most sea glass after a storm. While that can occasionally happen, Chenavier has combed many beaches post-hurricane only to maybe find just one piece of sea glass worth keeping. The storm will sometimes pull everything out to sea having the opposite of the anticipated effect, and then there won’t be any sea glass spotted for a while.
Think of where the most populated beaches are; and conversely where the beaches are a bit secluded. The more isolated the beaches, the better.
The best time to go seaglunking, according to Chenavier, is in the winter or fall, not in the summer because the beaches are picked clean in the summer – either by humans or plows. (On the Jersey shore, I have had luck in the springtime finding many unique shells and sea glass before Memorial Day weekend. Any time you can go before they grade the sands and sweep them, you have a really good chance of finding sea glass.)
Finally, she says, “You have to be aware of your surroundings [while you scan the beaches]. A wave may knock you down.” Or in her case, as she now lives closer to the mountains and scours the rivers for river glass, a snake might be under a rock! Chenavier cautions “Don’t go by yourself! You’ll get so involved in what you’re doing that you won’t see danger.”
When you get your sea glass home, wash it. This is how you can get a closer look at some of the markings on the pieces of Pepsi bottles, or zero in on the numbers which hold keys to identifying the origins some pieces of glass. “When you wet it and hold it to the sun, you see the true color. It’s like a jewel. It looks entirely different dry,” accentuates Chenavier. “Go home and rinse it off. It has sand on it. Sometimes you can identify a piece by what’s written on it–numbers, words.” She suggests that one easy way to wash your sea glass is to pour it into a colander or on a screen – that way you don’t lose the smaller pieces and the water passes through.
Chenavier wouldn’t give away her secret locations where she hunts for sea glass, but if you are a serious collector, she suggests that you do some research and find out where bottles were dumped in the ocean off of the coastline.
“Atlantic City was a place where people went to drink during prohibition, so you know glass was dumped there,” hints Chenavier about a good location for seaglunking. She also says that New Jersey has many places where you can find plenty of sea glass, such as Seaside and Wildwood (in the more secluded areas). If you travel further south, there are areas near the Chesapeake Bay and Newport News, Virginia that have beaches which are not being cleaned and you can have better luck.
What draws most people to sea glass, besides its innate beauty, of which the perfect piece is all smooth, all around–is that they want to pick it up and feel it. “People aren’t going to break it or get cut on it,” says Chenavier. “They want to touch it. I have it in my house. I like to pick it up. That’s my thing. I feel it’s better when you can hold it rather than looking at it visually.”
I never thought about it that way before–but she’s right. We all have seen sea glass on display, or formed into jewelry, but how therapeutic is it just to run your fingers over smooth glass-like stones, or feel the ridges of shells interspersed with glass dew drops from the sea. Chenavier likes to display her sea glass in decorative bowls or on trays so people can pick it up and enjoy it.
As for Chenavier’s own collection, she used to collect shells but now is more focused on collecting washed up marbles, glass, porcelain and tiles. “There’s quite a bit. There’s always room for more!” she states about the potential for expanding her findings.
Some people do sell their sea glass to jewelry makers, but Chenavier says she can’t part with the very special pieces she has. While red sea glass is the most valuable color-wise, each piece holds innate value to its finder or beholder. Her favorite piece of sea glass is a piece of black glass–it’s actually dark brown and was molded. However, her second favorite piece is what she calls a “mermaid tear.” It’s a teardrop-shaped piece of turquoise sea glass that is perfectly formed (I have included a photo of the mermaid tear, so you can see what I mean).
“It’s always valuable to the person that finds it. You won’t go out there and find a million dollar piece of glass,” remarks Chenavier about how she places value on what she finds. “I can’t part with the very special ones.”
If you are inclined to do more than just display your sea glass, Chenavier says it is good for craft projects, and the best way to make it into jewelry is to bezel it. You have to be really precise if you drill a piece of sea glass because you can crack it. Bezeling is where you wrap a piece of sea glass in thin silver wire. It’s safer to protect the integrity of the glass.
A special ‘thank you’ to Denise Paci-Chenavier for sending me the most wonderful surprise package of sea glass, seashells, a water washed marble, and gorgeous found beach tile fragments. I’m off to a great start with my own collection now, proudly displayed in my living room.