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Is Sea Glass Disappearing?

Sea Glass is Becoming Harder to Find

Some of the rare colors in my sea glass collection

I’ve been sea glass hunting for only about 8 years. And in that time, I’ve seen it go from plentiful, stunning multis on famous beaches like Seaham Beach in County Durham, England, to smaller more common solid colors of green, brown and white. So what is happening to our beloved sea glass? 

My Background in Sea Glass

seaglass from Seaham Beach

As I became more interested in sea glass, I educated myself by reading books like Pure Sea Glass: Discovering Nature’s Vanishing Gems, by Richard LaMotte. I became so fascinated by these little sea gems, that I decided to start traveling the world in search of the best sea glass I could find. I live about half a mile from the beach in Satellite Beach, Florida and work remotely, so I can work while I travel. There is some sea glass here where I live, but it is quite rare to find anything other than old beer bottles that have been frosted over the years. 

Seaham Beach in the northeast of England came up over and over again in my research. So I talked to my cousin Fionna, who lives in the Netherlands and she decided to plan a scouting mission there with some friends since she lived closer. She found some amazing pieces, so we planned to go together the following fall. We found so many stunning pieces that we vowed to return. However, as the years passed, we discovered that there were fewer and fewer of the rare pieces. It became so unpredictable that we soon stopped going and instead started combing the Mediterranean coast of France and Spain.

The one thing I found a lot of on Seaham Beach, was black glass. For some reason my eyes were drawn to pieces that looked like the rest of the pebbles on the beach, but weren’t. I now have an extensive black sea glass collection, and have kept some of my more rare art glass pieces rather than sell them. 

But much to our dismay, we are finding that sea glass there in the Mediterranean has also become harder to find. So why is that? 

Reasons that Sea Glass is Becoming Harder to Find

Gorgeous bottle bottom sea glass from Puerto Rico
Sea Glass I found in Puerto Rico

As the world has become more environmentally aware, people no longer casually dump their empty bottles overboard and have chosen to recycle instead. There is also a more prevalent use of plastic. Then the U.S. federal government passed the Ocean Dumping Ban Act of 1988, officially banning the dumping of waste into the oceans. That means that glass factories were no longer allowed to dump their “end of day” waste into the sea. Other countries have followed suit becoming more environmentally responsible, putting an end to a practice that contributed to much of the rare colors we find so tantalizing. 

Since well-frosted sea glass takes decades or centuries to form, that means that as we pick up that glass from the beaches, it is not being replaced. That, along with a growing interest in sea glass, has caused its rapid decline. Today’s sea glass is more rare than many other materials. 

Seaham Beach is now significantly more crowded than just a few years ago. And from what local shop owners tell me, that increase has happened rapidly in the last couple of years. I have written several blogs on sea glass hunting in Seaham and where to stay and eat, at the time not realizing how quickly the sea glass there was diminishing. 

Prominent News Articles on Disappearing Sea Glass

There have been several articles over the past 15 years written by prominent news outlets reporting on the diminishing supplies of sea glass around the world. The New York Times wrote an article called From Junk to Collectible, Shaped by Time and Tide and quoted Carole Lambert, whose “Sea Glass Hunter’s Handbook” is her third on the subject, as saying that a piece of orange sea glass, the rarest color, can sell for hundreds of dollars. That article was written in 2010, and I can tell you that I have never seen an orange go for that kind of money. In fact, at the time of this article, I currently have a stunning orange piece listed for sale for $45 and have had no buyers. 

The Philadelphia Inquirer also wrote an article on these rare disappearing gems called Sea Glass Becoming Harder to Find and quoted Richard LaMotte as saying, “Red, yellow, and orange are the rarest colors, along with black, which often glimmers dark green under a flashlight. A good red or orange piece can bring hundreds of dollars.” (you will need a subscription to access the linked article).

Even NPR got on the bandwagon with an article in 2009 called Sea Glass, A Disappearing Treasure. They interviewed Sue Gray Fitzpatrick who, at the time, had been making sea glass jewelry for 20 years. Upon finding a red piece during the interview stated, “The color alone makes this piece so rare Fitzpatrick won’t sell it. Even though she has seen red glass go for more than $200 on eBay.” 

That means that 13 years ago, a rare red piece could sell for $200, while today, I see them being listed in my Facebook selling groups for $16. I hope this baffling practice ends and we see prices that reflect the true rarity of these disappearing gems. 

What Should Sellers Do About Their Vanishing Stock?

As a seller of sea glass, not only am I keenly aware of our vanishing supplies, but I have noticed an interesting trend of decreasing prices, particularly on Facebook auction sites. I find myself wondering how that is possible when these sellers are surely aware that their future is uncertain based on the reduced quantities of sea glass. I can only assume that the need to sell has overshadowed their concern about the future. 

Jewelry made from a piece of round blue sea glass
A pendant I had made from a round piece of blue sea glass I found

Not only can it cost a tremendous amount to travel to these beaches where rare art glass is found, it can take days of beachcombing to find one rare piece. That leaves me thinking that I should sit on my collection and wait out the price wars, which is unfortunate because then sea glass buyers will not benefit from these remarkable pieces. 

So it seems that fierce competition among sellers has caused these price reductions, but to our own detriment, because at some point very soon, the rare sea glass will be gone. I can only implore that my fellow sellers consider the rarity of their glass when setting their prices. If we educate our buyers, and keep our prices appropriate, the community as a whole will benefit. 

Barbara Ingram, Soul Shells Sea Glass

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