10 things to look for when beachcombing

Beachcombing is a great way to get to know your local beach. Check out our guide to see what you could find.

Looking at what the sea has washed ashore is a fun and educational activity for adults and children alike.

There are lots of interesting things to look out for no matter where your local beach is. Shells, shark egg cases, bones, seaweed, corals and other sea life can all be found along South Australia’s beaches, along with interesting rocks, pieces of smooth sea glass and driftwood.

But remember – while you can look and take photos of animals and plants, it is illegal to remove any animals or plants from the foreshore and seashore rocky reefs in SA (from high tide down to 2 metres).

It’s fine to take home a few of the empty shells that you find washed up on the beach – but just make sure they are really empty.

Here are 10 things to look for on your next beachcombing adventure: 

1. Port Jackson shark egg cases

These brown, spiral-shaped egg cases are quite distinctive. Female Port Jackson sharks wedge them into gaps between rocks, where they harden and can stay for up to a year before the baby shark hatches. Sometimes they are dislodged by storms and end up on the beach. 

 Port Jackson shark egg case
(Image courtesy of K Bunker @ Flickr, CC BY-NC 2.0)

2. Moon snail eggs

Commonly known as ‘sausage blubbers’ or ‘jelly blubbers’, these clear, C-shaped jellies are actually masses of moon snail eggs. The adult moon snail is a small brown and fawn snail that hunts in intertidal areas for little bivalve creatures. 

Moon snail Polinices conicus egg mass
(Image courtesy of M Bossley, CC BY Attribution)

3. Abalone shells

Abalone have one flattish shell with a row of holes along one side to help them breathe. Rough on the outside, they’re pearly and beautiful inside, and when they’re alive they clamp onto rocks using a muscular foot. 

Abalone Haliotis scalaris
(Image courtesy of J Delsing, Wikimedia Commons)

4. Razorfish

Razorfish are a bivalve, meaning they have two shells instead of one. They can live for 15 years and grow up to half a metre long. They live in groups in sandy or muddy sediments, and true to their name, the edges of their shells can be very sharp if you step on them. 

Razofish
(Image courtesy of P Hall, CC BY Attribution)

5. Anemone cones

Anemone cones are cone shells measuring up to about five centimetres long that are found all around the SA coast. They are predatory molluscs that use a miniature poison dart to paralyse and catch worms on the seafloor. The live snail could give a person a painful sting, but the empty shell is not dangerous. 

conus shell
(Image courtesy of S Johnson, CC BY Attribution)

6. Cuttlefish bones

Anyone who has had a pet budgie is probably familiar with cuttlefish bones, as they are traditionally given to caged birds to sharpen their beaks. Cuttlefish come from the same order as octopus and squid. They are soft-bodied creatures with eight arms and two long tentacles to catch food, and the white ‘bone’ is actually an internal shell that helps them float. 

cuttlebone
(Image courtesy of M Bossley, CC BY Attribution)

7. Paper nautilus

The paper nautilus looks like a shell, but it is actually the egg case of an argonaut octopus. Argonauts live in the open ocean and the female makes this delicate, white case to protect her eggs. Once she has laid her eggs in it, the female also takes shelter inside the case, which has an air pocket that keeps it buoyant. 

Argonauta nodosa eggcase
(Image courtesy of Mgiganteus1, The English Language Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0)

8. Sponges

Sponges may look like plants, but they are actually simple animals with a skeleton made from a fibrous material called spongin. They come in many shapes and sizes, and extract food by pumping sea water through their pores. 

sponge on beach
(Image courtesy of J Baker, CC BY Attribution)

9. Sea urchins

Sea urchins are spiky little creatures with sharp teeth for eating algae, and tiny feet to move around. They are usually found on reefs or seagrass, but if they are washed ashore, their spines are usually broken off along the way. The rounded shell that is left behind is known as a ‘test’. 

Urchin
(Image courtesy of J Baker, CC BY Attribution)

10. Surf crabs

Also known as sand crabs, surf crabs are a greyish colour and grow to about 10 cm across, with two red dots on their shells that look like eyes. As they grow, they discard their old shells and grow new ones, so empty shells often wash up on the beach. 

surf crab ovalipes
(Image courtesy of Sunphlo, Flickr CC BY-NC 2.0)

Check out the Beachcombers’ Guide to Plants and Animals in South Australia’s Marine Parks to learn more about the things you can find along our beaches.

Found anything interesting in your travels? Be sure to share your experience with us in the comments section below.

This story was originally posted in September 2016. 

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