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What is Sea Glass?

Mary McMahon
Updated Feb 28, 2024
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Sea glass is a curious phenomenon, since it is essentially highly valuable litter. Sea glass is created when glass objects are thrown into the ocean, broken up, and tumbled by the waves into smooth, slightly pitted shapes which wash up on shore. Enthusiasts collect sea glass to use it for decorations, jewelry, and garden accents, and some companies actually artificially manufacture it because the demand for sea glass is so high.

Sea glass comes in a variety of colors, although green, clear, and amber are the most common. Red, pink, blue, milk glass, and other exotic colors can be found, and are highly prized by collectors because of their rarity. In some instances, sea glass becomes entangled and embedded with other objects in the ocean, like discarded metal scrap, and forms strange and fantastical natural sculptures from man-made artifacts.

Sea glass can be found along most coast lines, although some areas are better than others. The best places to look for sea glass are areas which were formerly used as dumps, because they constantly disgorge new sea glass in exotic and interesting shapes and colors. Some beaches are famous for their troves of sea glass, such as Northern California's Glass Beach, and another beach by the same name on the Hawaiian island of Kauai. Areas heavily frequented by humans are also good sources of sea glass, as many careless people toss their garbage into the ocean rather than disposing of it responsibly.

When hunting for sea glass, caution should be used, especially if you are exploring the site of a former ocean dump. Many dumps include toxins which are dangerous to people of all ages, but especially children. In addition, pieces of jagged metal or glass can cut through clothing or shoes, so you should make sure to wear sturdy garments and clothing while you hunt for sea glass, along with gloves for sifting through the things you find.

When you bring sea glass home, always wash it to remove surface accumulations of dirt, bacteria, algae, and other things which could dull the color or make it smell unpleasant before using it to decorate. Some sea glass hunters like to display sea glass organized by color, or fill clear jars with a sampling of sea glass and water which will glow in the sunlight if placed in a window. The beauty of sea glass belies its humble origins, but it can also be used as an educational tool for young children if you want to explain the value and delicacy of the global oceans.

WiseGEEK is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a WiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments

By PelesTears — On Aug 09, 2010

I used to live in California, and I collected sea glass and shells as a kid. My great uncle and I used to drill holes in the sea glass we collected with a Dremel tool. We would string the pieces on fishing line or wire to make sea glass necklaces for my mother, great aunt, and sister.

This article was great; it brought back memories from my childhood. I have collected sea glass in California, Oregon, and on Whidbey Island off the coast of Washington.

By anon4055 — On Oct 01, 2007

There are many stained glass windows that are not signed by the maker. Why do you think this is this so. Some of these widows are so beautiful...why would they not want their name associated with their work.

Mary McMahon

Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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