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Block Island Ferry

Beachcombing on Block Island

Beachcombing is a great New England seaside activity and there’s no better place to do your searching than Block Island. In fact, USA Today named Block Island as one of the ten best beachcombing locations in the United States! While you can do your exploring any time of the year, the best time to wander the beaches is after periods of high tide and stormy weather. This makes New England’s hurricane season, for better or worse, the perfect time to do some beachcombing.

If you’re from the area, chances are that you’ve picked something off the beach before. But do you know what those things are and where they came from. Whether you come across naturally occurring finds or pieces of flotsam and jetsam, we hope this brief guide will help you on your search!

Natural Finds

When you think of beachcombing, usually the first thing that pops into your head is sea shells. On Block Island you’ll find the usual suspects: quahogs, mussels, oyster, and scallops. One of the more prolific shells on the beach are slipper shells. These pink-, purple- or cream-colored shells with a curved top and flat-bottom come from the Slipper Snail. Other snail shells you might find come from the moon snail, periwinkle, and various whelks. Also be on the lookout for mermaids’ toenails. These small, slightly transparent shells glistening with mother of pearl and can come in orange, yellow, pink, gray, or white. They come from the common jingle shell, a mollusk closely related to blue mussels and bay scallops.

While shells are the primary sort of thing you’ll find, be on the lookout for other items left by nature. Certain animals like crabs and horseshoe crabs outgrow their outer shells and occasionally molt as they get bigger (think of a snake shedding its skin). Every once in a while, you’ll be find these whole, castoff shells on the beach.

One other thing to look out for are mermaid’s purses. These objects are black or dark brown and have a bulged rectangular middle with a tendril poking out at each corner. While they look creepy and alien-like, they are actually the discarded egg pouches from sea skates, which are closely related to rays!

Sea Glass

One of the more stunning things you can find on the seashore is sea glass. Sea glass is created when manufactured glass materials are discarded into the ocean and, in turn, are broken into smaller pieces and weathered by the waves and salt water. While artificial sea glass, pieces created via a manufacturing process, can come in all different colors, natural sea glass tends to be clear, green, or brown/yellow.

The best place to look for sea glass on Block Island is Crescent Beach. It should be noted, however, that sea glass is becoming more difficult to find. Unfortunately, over the past few decades, containers were replaced by plastic. While we don’t condone garbage being thrown into the sea, the former refuse left by glass (which would naturally wear away) has been replaced by a huge influx of plastic polluting our oceans.


Driftwood is created when trees or pieces of man-made wooden object are washed into the ocean. The wood is smoothed and sanded into interesting shapes and sizes through chemical reactions with the salt water and natural sanding by the waves, sand, and rocks. Driftwood can be a beautiful sculptural piece to display in your home.

If you’re taking smaller pieces of driftwood home, there are a few things to keep in mind. Make sure that the piece is free of sand, soil, and vegetation. Also, inspect the driftwood to make sure there are not any obvious signs of pests. You don’t want to be bring them home with you. Of course, be respectful regarding the size of the piece you’ve found. Your fellow ferry passengers would prefer not to dodge 10-foot lengths of lumber.

Beachcombing is a relaxing and fun activity that can be enjoyed by kids and adults alike! While you might be picking up keepsakes, it’s the memories that are the true takeaway. Plan your trip to Block Island soon. You never know what the sea will leave behind!

Comb that beach and Sail Away…