Apr 13, 2015, 06:15AM

Dream Job: International Beachcomber

What's a better gig than getting paid to go to the beach? 

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What do you notice in the photo above? Well, first of all, the crab is dead. My daughter found him at the edge of the water, stuck him on the log and said “Let’s take a picture like one of those cool crab photos we see on Instagram, but you won’t know he’s dead.” She posed his claw, took the shot, and then tossed him on the beach, looking up at an osprey nest and pointing out that he’d make a good dinner for someone. Another thing you might notice about the photo, taken at the Chesapeake Bay Environmental Center where she was attending camp over spring break, is the “driftwood.” It isn’t driftwood, it’s a smattering of trees that have eroded into the bay because of the rising water level. This beach, like so many others, won’t be here for long.

I’d like to be an International Beachcomber. Traveling the world, collecting sea glass and other treasures, writing about the fragile nature of beachcombing due to climate change, and preaching about the hazards of ocean trash and microbeads all sounds fantastic.

Last summer I attended the North American Sea Glass Association show, which focuses mainly on sea glass jewelers. As of yet, sea glass collectors who aren’t jewelers can’t join the organization—I hope that’ll change in the future. Sea glass jewelry can be beautiful but to many the joy is in the hunt. There is a section of the show where collectors can display their treasures, which we did. This summer, my daughter and I will display our collection again at the 10th annual show in Ocean City, Maryland. It’s great to meet sea glass enthusiasts from near and far and talk about finds. The “Shard of the Year” contest is really fun to watch—hundreds of entries compete for cash prizes (including a $1000 grand prize) in over 10 categories like historical, marbles, buttons, art glass, whimsical/toys, most unusual, and pottery.

Two years ago the International Beachcombing Conference was held in Delaware (walking on a beach with an archeologist taught me quite a bit) and this fall the conference will be held October 7-11 in Olympic Peninsula, Washington.

“Wandering along shorelines pocketing treasure is something I've done since I was a small child,” says Deacon Ritterbush, PhD., known as Dr. Beachcomb, founder of the International Beachcombing Conference. “A gentle, meditative activity, beachcombing never failed to lift my spirits and fill my pockets with fascinating things. Now, as an adult, a beachcomber still, I realize that strolling along searching for sea glass, shells or stones offers a natural way to enhance health and well-being, extend social networks and expand intellectual horizons.”

I’m fortunate that Deacon has included me in the conference—I’ll be speaking on “Beach Marbles Worldwide: Age, Sources and Types.” Marbles are my favorite things (with miniature bottles a close second) to find on the beach. I have over 100 found in the Chesapeake Bay, one found on a trip to Puerto Rico and one found on Glass Beach in California. I want to visit England, Scotland, Italy and Greece and hope someday to have marbles from all those places. I’ve read many articles and books on the history of marbles and am already working on my sea glass marble Power Point presentation. If you love beachcombing and you’re not busy that weekend in October, you should come hang out with me in Washington State.

teach writing and love it, but teaching about beachcombing—and especially researching in order to be able to do that—is absolutely what I’d love to do someday. Glad I finally decided on the answer to that classic question before I turn 50 pretty soon.

—Read more beachcombing articles by Mary McCarthy or find her beachcombing photos on Instagram.


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