A Gathering of Beachcombers

This weekend my wife and I attended the Sea Bean Symposium, an annual gathering of beachcombers that call themselves 'The Drifters' and search the world's beaches for beautiful sea beans and drift seeds. For those of you who don't know or remember what sea beans are, check out this post from last month and prepare to be amazed. If the cheerful crowd at the symposium was any indication, sea beans have the magical power to make anyone happy and carefree. Just a hunch.

My beautiful wife admiring the sea bean jewelry of Nan Rhodes!

So, what could you expect to find at a 'sea bean symposium?' There where hundreds of different drift seeds on display, along with anything from glass fishing floats, sea glass, egg cases, sea bean jewelry, books, shirts, educational displays and even washed up toys. The collective spoils of the exhibitors beach walks was mesmerizing, to be sure, but what really won our hearts was the human element.

These... are all sea beans.
David McRhee's jellyfish presentation elicited many 'ooh's and 'aah's.

I saw smiles all around the room during the presentations. The attendees gasped in awe at the slides of sea glass and jellyfish as if they were fireworks. They tried to simmer down to a hush during the presentations, but then shot up to ask questions at every chance available. It was like being surrounded by a classroom of excitable children! They furiously jotted down their notes, filling the pages with terms like 'slag glass' and 'mesoglea' like college students would, that is, if the class was on something that college students really cared about. Free food or hooking up, perhaps. I've never seen a group of people so focused on a slideshow!

These Botanical Interests seed packets were FREE!

Beachcombing is a lot like gardening. Walking the wrack line in search of unsung treasure is just as meditative and fulfilling as nurturing plants, but unlike gardening, it can be accomplished in a matter of minutes and resumed at the time of your choosing. When you're focused on the endless painting of sand and shells beneath your feet, your mind is wiped clean of all worries and completely at ease with the world and all of its imperfections. It's as if while foraging, your instinct has taken over. You start to get a feel for where the sea beans turn up, and the feeding birds alert you to a productive strand of wrack. Frosted shards of sea glass are not just that, but rather some kind of currency or pendant that you could use to show off your hunting prowess.

This reversion to a primitive state might seem a bit Lord of the Flies, but beach combers are a generous lot. Just as a gardener would be more than willing to share a surplus crop or some passalong plants, sea beaners love to share their finds with others. One time I met a family from New York on the beach who had found their first hamburger bean, and I was so excited to tell them about sea beans that I gave them my favorite sea bean, a beautiful speckled red hamburger bean that I had polished to a fine gloss. I couldn't have been happier. One bean is nothing, though. At the symposium there was a basket of free beans and even a pile of free sea glass for the taking, and every now and then I'll find sea beans, shells and sea glass scattered near the boardwalks for others to find and collect. Whenever sea beans are needed for an educational project, sea beaners respond with open hearts.

My favorite part of the symposium was the awards ceremony. As we watched old friends share their updates from the last year and present gifts and awards to each other, an intricate network of histories unfolded before us in a matter of minutes. We were taking part in a family reunion. Indeed, many of the members really were family, and I don't think I've seen so many happy married couples together at one time before. Maybe beachcombing is the key to a happy marriage!

The symposium is a gathering of Drifters (literally the name of the group) that end up on the shore of Central Florida once a year before riding the unpredictable tides of life until the next year. I'm itching to use a corny beach metaphor, so let's just say that they're all washed up and forgive me for my lack of restraint. Email me or leave a comment if you have any questions about the legendary Drifters and their magical sea beans!

Glass fishing floats from the Pacific

The biggest drift seed of all, the coco de mer or 'double coconut!' It's a symbol of um... fertility.
The beach!

These are all Dioclea spp. sea purses, and each one is different.


  1. Interesting blog of a fascinating hobby I'm not too familiar with. It's like finding nature's washed up gems on the beach :)

  2. there's an actual symposium devoted to this?? that is awesome! seeds, especially ones that have spent some time floating around the world, are fascinating. i'm glad y'all had fun.

  3. It really is insane how far these seeds can make it. I'm pretty sure I'd try and plant them all instead of just saving them or making jewelry. :)

  4. mark and gaz: They really are like gems! I laugh at all of those guys on the beach looking for treasure with metal detectors. The real treasure is under their nose!
    Daricia: Isn't that neat? The symposium lasts a couple of days too!
    Andrew: I have planted several but I need more! More I say!


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