Posted in theology

Gifts from the Sea

By Elizabeth Prata

Happy Fourth of July long weekend, if you’re taking it off! For many of us the beginning of July is high summer. Lots of families take vacations at this time of year, and many of those, choose to go to the beach.

Shells, sea glass, rocks, coral, barnacles, and pottery from the sea, collected from Labrador to the Bahamas. Prata photo

I used to take a week off at Christmas and head to Florida, and the week of the 4th I’d go to my favorite spot in Maine, Lubec. If you see the map of Maine as a profile of a dog, Lubec is at the dog’s nose. It borders Canada separated only by a narrow inlet. The bridge from Lubec takes you to Campobello Island on the Canadian island of New Brunswick.

As you might guess, the beaches on the hardy, rockbound and foggy coast of Maine are wild. As a matter of fact, Dr Beach, AKA Stephen Leatherman, several years ago rated a beach near Lubec as the most wild in America.

In December, I took my vacation at Venice FL, where the sand beaches are white and the ocean is azure and gentle at the Gulf coast.

Beaches around the US and around the world all have their own personalities. Each one yields up its own treasures. At Jasper Beach in Machias Maine, the beach has no sand! There’s only smoothly polished rocks of rhyolite and jasper. At Lubec’s Globe Cove, the sea yields sea glass, from the hundreds of years the fishing fleet used to throw over their glass bottles. At Venice FL, the sea yields up shark’s teeth in great numbers. At the deserted beaches in The Bahamas, you find coral washed up, bleached and in interesting twisted shapes. In Labrador, you find scallop shells bigger than your hand! All you need is one of these for dinner!

You rule over the surging sea; when its waves mount up, you still them. (Psalm 89:9)

And of course, there’s shells!

If you’re headed to the beach, or are already there, here are a few facts I found fascinating. As you amble along the borderline between ocean and ground, as you wade in the waters to cool your tired feet, as you shield your eyes and gaze out to the limitless blue expanse, praise God for making such a beautiful habitation, and its creatures so complex and wondrous.

My favorite shell is the moon snail. He has a lot of cousins. They all have that sweet spiral, so pleasing to the eye. Their hushed colors of slate grey or moon blue are also pleasing. In the US’s warmer waters and the tropics the shell colors are brighter. Some think this is because of the temperature of the ocean. Others think it’s because of the different food available that translates through digestion to the calcium the shells are made of. Scientists still aren’t sure what kinds of pigments the mollusks are using. The reasons for shell coloration and variation are a mystery to scientists, but God created them all. In one day! He knows why their colors and shaes are so varied. Perhaps to create a palette of beauty that glorifies Him.

Juvenile whelk, collected Gulf Coast Florida. Prata photo

Moon snails for all their delicate beauty are actually rapacious predators. The holes you see on other snail shells are made by the moon snail. He climbs on top of a shell, spits acid, uses his tongue lined with teeth to drill a hole, then spews acid onto the hapless mollusk inside. He waits for his prey to melt a little, then inserts his stomach into the hole and absorbs the prey.  Ouch! Yuck!

This is what the LORD says, he who appoints the sun to shine by day, who decrees the moon and stars to shine by night, who stirs up the sea so that its waves roar— the LORD Almighty is his name: (Jeremiah 31:35)

Did you know that the moon snail is hatched with a little shell attached already? That’s the point at the start of the spiral. So cool.

Moon snail, collected Maine. Prata photo

Scallops can grow into the size of dinner plates, their age shown by lines on the shell – just like the rings of a tree. I found that one in the photo at the top, in Blanc Sablon near Labrador Canada.

He is the Maker of heaven and earth, the sea, and everything in them— he remains faithful forever. (Psalm 146:6)

The Bahamas has been described as having the third most extensive coral reef system in the world. Did you know? Andros Island has a 140-mile Barrier Reef – and that is one of the longest coral reefs in the world.

Coral. The Bahamas. Prata photo

Did you know? Corals are in fact animals, not plants. Coral reefs are the largest structures on earth of biological origin.

Sea glass is becoming rarer.

Did you know? Sea glass takes 20 to 40 years, and sometimes as much as 100 years, to acquire its characteristic texture and shape. Sea glass begins as normal shards of broken glass that are then persistently tumbled and ground until the sharp edges are smoothed and rounded. In this process, the glass loses its slick surface but gains a frosted appearance over many years.
Naturally produced sea glass (“genuine sea glass”) originates as pieces of glass from broken bottles, broken tableware, or even shipwrecks, which are rolled and tumbled in the ocean for years until all of their edges are rounded off, and the slickness of the glass has been worn to a frosted appearance.

This article talks about the best places to find sea glass and mentions Jasper Beach in Machiasport, Maine among other beaches Downeast. That’s where you find the round and tumbled stones. Some glass can be found there, too. But if you’re going that far, drive just a bit further to Lubec, and walk the small beach at Globe Cove. That’s where even more sea glass treasure can be found.

If you spot some sea glass, salute our God who made the ocean and currents’ motion so strong that over time his waters will wear away hard glass.

See the barnacles on the scallop? Apparently in Labrador they grow em big! Barnacles are a sea creature that attaches to things, like they did to the underside of our sailboat. Enough of them get on there and it slows down the boat considerably, creating a lot of drag. Occasionally you have to pull the boat out of the water at a marina and scrape them off.

Barnacles on a scallop. They make it hard for the scallop to swim, too. Prata photo

Did you know that the cement barnacles use is stronger than anything man can make synthetically? How barnacles did it was a mystery from time immemorial until 2014. The US Navy has been intensely interested in barnacles, partly because of the issue of slowing the boats when barnacles grow on the hull, and also because the cement the creatures use is so sticky in salt water!!

When you’re walking on a pier and see the barnacles on the pilings, salute our God who made them so super strong.

Jasper Beach Machiasport ME. Prata photo

Whether it’s shark’s teeth, shells, rocks, sea glass, pottery, or any other treasure you find on vacation, praise God who made it all in 6 days by the power of His word and the creativity of His intellect.

Below you’ll find some resources I’ve enjoyed to help me learn more (and perhaps extend my vacation even after I get home?) the wonderful finds you find at the beach!

Conchologists of America, information about the shells and the animals that inhabit them. Conchologist is a shell collector.

Anne Morrow Lindbergh wrote a books of poems and thoughts called Gift from the Sea. Here is the link to the 50th anniversary edition

Remembering Lubec: Stories from the Easternmost Point (American Chronicles) 
is a short book about life in that harsh but beautiful climate and location

This is a good book, and pretty, too: Pure Sea Glass: Discovering Nature’s Vanishing Gems



Christian writer and Georgia teacher's aide who loves Jesus, a quiet life, art, beauty, and children.

3 thoughts on “Gifts from the Sea

  1. Very beautiful, very interesting, and very detailed. Thank- you.
    We live on the sea. All kinds of things wash up on shore. Some are God’s creation, as you describe. Others are man-made, like the time we found a little stuffed doggie wearing a Santa Claus hat. 🤗

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    1. LOL that’s funny. You’re so blessed to live on the sea. I miss it a lot. I grew up in The Ocean State, and lived on a lake in Maine near the ocean for the next 30 years until I moved to inland GA

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