Monday, August 24, 2009

Seashell Mobile

This little mobile craft project is so easy to do and turns out so pretty that I couldn't resist posting it. It's also a great craft idea for kids to try out!

Items You'll Need:
- Seashells or other small, beach related items
- Several feat of string
- 2 pieces of dowel rod (or a few wire hangers)
- Strong glue

1. Use string and glue to form dowel rods into an 'X'
2. Cut string into varying length pieces and tie them to the ends of the dowel rods
3. Glue shells onto the strings and let sit until glue has hardened (if you have sand dollars, you can use the holes to tie the string instead of gluing it)
4. Use another piece of string to hang your new creation up!

Friday, August 21, 2009

Easy Seashell Decorative Bowl - Bring the Beach into Your Home!

I love this idea - it's so simple, yet so beautiful.

What you need:
- Large glass bowl
- Sand
- Seashells of various sizes

1. Pour out some sand into your glass bowl and arrange it so that it's covering the entire bottom of the bowl.
2. Pour sand into any shell that you can fit it. This is to weigh the shell down a bit so that it stays in place better.
3. Arrange shells however you wish in the sand in your bowl and you're done!

I have my own seashell bowl sitting on the coffee table, but this would be a great center piece for a dining room table or in your bathroom. You can also put some votive candles in the sand to give it a little romantic flair!

Monday, August 17, 2009


Starfish, also known as sea stars, can be divided into two classes: Asteroidea (sea stars) and Ophiuroidea(brittle stars). The type you are probably most familiar with, which are the kind with 5 legs, are probably the Cushion Star, Sugar Star, and the North Atlantic Common Star which are all part of the Asteroidea family. However, there are several asteroidea which have more than 5 legs (see Sunflower Star and Millipede Starfish). The Ophiuroidea family includes some starfish you may never have heard of : the Basket Star and the Brittle Star. Unfortunately, I can't find any non-copyrighted photos of these stars right now to show you, but take my word for it, they're worth checking out.

Starfish do not have skeletons for moving and body support. Instead they use a water vascular system. Sea stars have two stomachs: one is used for digestion and the other is used as a mouth to engulf and begin digesting prey. Yes, this stomach can actually come outside of their bodies to grab food! This ability allows them to eat much larger prey than you might think. Starfish can easily prey on clams, oysters, small fish and mollusks. Like the sand dollar, a starfish's mouth is on the underside of its body.

Starfish are able to regenerate limbs. Most sea stars have 5 limbs, but some have more or less even within the same species. At the end of each limb or arm is a microscopic eye which allows the starfish to see light and dark. This doesn't give the starfish a very detailed view of its surroundings but this allows it to see movement which is used for hunting prey. All around the spines on the back of a starfish are small white objects called pedicellariae. These pedicellariae prevent encrusting organisms from living on the sea star.

Sand Dollars

One of the most popular and sought after seashell is the sand dollar sea shell (echinarachnius parma). When they reach us at the beach, they are typically bleached white from the sun, round in shape and show no signs of ever having once been alive. So, what are sand dollars like when they're alive?

When alive, sand dollars are covered with many tiny, maroon colored, hairlike spines. These spines work a lot like the legs of a centipede or spider and allow the sand dollar to move around the ocean floor as well as pick up food. The flower petal-like pattern on the sand dollar’s shell is actually 5 paired rows of pores. These pores are holes in the endoskeleton through which the podia, used like fish gills, project from the body to allow the sand dollar to "breathe". Like the sea star, sand dollars have their mouths on their stomachs. The spines around their mouth gather and push small microorganisms into their mouth. Sand dollars live in the intertidal zone (the area between high tide and low tide) in the ocean.

Sand dollars have few natural enemies due to their hard, protective shells and the precious little edible parts to them. One of their few known enemies is the thick-lipped, eelpout (also known as an ocean pout or zoarces americanus).

The best time to find sand dollar seashells is right after a big storm. The waves will have dredged up many of the dead, discarded shells from the ocean floor. If you are not concerned with preserving the shell for your collection, I would suggest breaking it open. You may find many hard, white loose pieces inside. These were the sand dollars teeth!

Friday, August 14, 2009

How to Clean Your Seashells

So you've spent a day out on the beach hunting seashells and now you have a nice stash. As you sit down under a palm tree and look over your finds, you notice that some may smell bad, are covered in grime or algae or are covered in barnacles - not pretty! Your sea shells need a good cleaning!

To begin cleaning your shells, simply let your shells soak in a 50-50 solution of bleach and water. There's no set time that you should let them soak, it just depends on how many shells you have and how dirty they are. This bleach-water solution will clean off any periostracum left on the shells, leaving a beautiful, white shell underneath. Periostracum is simply described as a thin, organic outer layer on the shell. It is usually brownish in color and not very pretty.

If your shells have barnacles left on them and the bleach-water solution doesn't remove them, use an instrument like a dental pick, toothbrush or grill brush to pick or scrub them off.

Finally, to really make your seashells shine, cover them with a fine layer of acrylic paint or wipe them down with mineral or baby oil. This will help protect the shell as well as bring out its natural beauty.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

What are the Best Spots for Collecting Seashells?

So, you want to start collecting seashells? Great! Sea shell collecting is a fun and rewarding hobby. But, where do you start? Obviously, the first place you'll want to check is the sandy beach. Empty shells are washed up onto the beach by the tides all the time so this is a great place to start. Unfortunately, this is also where you'll find the fewest intact shells. Often the shells found in the sand have been tossed around underwater by storms and have been cracked, broken or otherwise damaged. To find the best and most complete shells you will have to check some less obvious places.

Scuba diving is a great way to find high quality shells (to learn more about the ins and outs of it, I highly recommend the books located here). Get some snorkeling gear and goggles that will allow you to see well underwater and check the sea floor near the shoreline. This is where you might find some shells that have recently been abandoned. You will need to be able to see clearly underwater to see these shells since they will most likely be camouflaged. Also, since they're so recently abandoned, they should have little to no damage. I would recommend reading up on the shell creatures that you're most likely to find at your local beach so you know where they typically hang out. This will give you a good starting place on where to look for these recently discarded sea shells. You might even find a few other interesting things... like shark teeth!

A few places underwater that typically have a lot of shells are near octopus homes (you will see a lot of broken, discarded shells near an octopus home). You will probably also have a lot of luck near places where the shoreline makes a crevasse like a 'V' or 'U'. Again, you will find a lot of broken shells and pieces of shells here. Search through the rubble and you will probably find a nice treasure.

At low tide, you might have some luck digging around in the mud flats. Follow the trails left by mollusks and you will probably find their discarded shells. A small shovel or rake will help you dig.

Another great place to look is on a rocky coastline a few days after a big storm. When a storm comes along, the little shell creatures get tossed around and they are sometimes tossed on the rocky areas. There, they get themselves stuck in between a few rocks. Wait a few days to allow nature to take it's course then go pick up the beautiful, fresh shells for your collection.

A good general tip for seashell hunting is to hunt on beaches that have few people. There will be less people picking up and/or stepping on the shells and you will be more likely to find a great shell. Try to locate the spot where waves crash before rolling up onto the shore. This is where the waves will be depositing the most shells before eventually washing them up onto the shore.

Hope these tips help! Good luck and happy hunting!

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Why are Seashells Different Colors?

Seashells are some of the most beautiful, mysterious and interesting products of ocean life (at least in my humble opinion). They have been incorporated into human societies for thousands of years as tools, art, jewelry, and money. Sometimes even as religious icons or symbols.

The colorful shells that we pick up in the sand on beaches are created by marine mollusks which are generally defined as soft-bodied invertebrates that create calcified shells for protection, camouflage and/or a place to live. Typically we're referring to snails, sea slugs and even squids and octopi (which do not have hard shells, but are still part of the mollusk family). The shells are composed mostly of CaCO3, or calcium carbonate, which is also found in rock, eggshells, and pearls and is the main cause of hard water. But, CaCO3 is white in color. The colors we see in seashells are often caused by impurities and waste from the organism captured in the shell when it is formed. Coloration is dictated mostly by diet and the water environment the creature lives in. For example, cowries that live and feed on coral, have shells that take on the same hues as the coral. This natural chemical reaction also helps to protect them from predators by allowing them to blend in with their environment.

What about all those iridescent shells that are multicolored and shiny? There's a different process that creates that effect. This iridescence is called mother-of-pearl and is caused by a coating of nacre on the shells. The nacre is secreted by oysters and some other mollusks to protect their bodies from parasites and disease. The nacre coating is very thin, in the range of several hundred nanometers thick, but is very strong and resilient. This nacre is also the same substance that composes pearls.