On New Year’s Day (Gregorian Edition) I stood with my nephews in the waters at Rockingham Beach. Not Perth’s nicest beach, but lovely and clear, as all WA waters should be, and calm, as befits a not-even-2-year-old. J, aged 3 and 4 months, was admiring shells with his mum, and before E could finish the sentence that ended with ‘take some shells home’ I, ever the environmentalist, spoke up to ruin his idyllic West Australian childhood.
As good, ecologically conscious Australians, we can’t take shells from the beach. They’re homes, I said to J, and his mum helped divert his attention from collecting, and towards looking and talking and putting them back after we’d admired them.
Maybe you, too, are an ecologically conscious Australian, and you are out enjoying this summer (or suffering), and have been thinking about the impact you might be having on the beach? Auntie Steph the Ecological Sustainability Nerd is here to tell answer your questions! (J had lots)
Why can’t I take shells home? They’re so pretty!
I know, pumpkin. But shells serve many purposes. Shells serve as homes for lots of little sea creatures (including hermit crabs). Some birds use shells as components in their nest-building. Removing shells from the beach can make the beach wash away faster (that’s erosion to you grown ups). Algae hang out in shells sometimes, too! And even when they’re all broken up and jagged and hurting under your feet, they’re still useful – they’re eaten, or used to build homes in their broken form, and, yes, still help stop the beach from washing away!
Further reading for your responsible adult: in Conservation Mag; in the Smithsonian Mag.
Can I take seaweed out of the water or off the beach?
Afraid not, dumpling. I know seaweed in the water can be pretty (or scary), and on the beach can be smelly, but it serves a purpose too! In the water it’s for filtration, and can be an important part of decreasing carbon dioxide levels. Some people call seaweed the trees of the ocean! Don’t they look a bit like trees? It’s also used as homes and habitats by many sea creatures. Shark eggs hide in seaweed for protection, because they look like seaweed, and if you take a bunch of seaweed out of the water you might also be killing a baby shark. Even if there’s no baby shark egg in there, you might be damaging the home of lots of little fishes, or removing their food! You wouldn’t like it if someone took your sandwich, would you?
(We had PBJ sandwiches for morning tea, because their mother is a North American Heathen)
The seaweed washed up on the beach out of the water can be a bit smelly, and I know it seems like it’s not any use, but it’s a very natural part of the lifecycle of seaweed. When the tide comes up tonight it’ll just wash away again! And the bits that don’t wash back into the ocean become food for the bugs and animals that live on the dunes between the water and the land. If you’re at the beach and there’s lots of seaweed and it’s getting all a bit much, don’t worry because your local Council or Parks Authority scientific experts will come take it away. They know what they’re doing, and know when the seaweed becomes unsafe to be around.
Further reading for your responsible adult: on land seaweed; about kelp forests.
Can we take water balloons to fill with water and play?
Oh, lovely, no. Like balloons that you fill with your big breaths, water balloons are made of rubbers that don’t decompose or biodegrade. This means that if they end up in the water after you’ve played with them, they drift out to sea. Because they’re so bright, sea animals think they’re food and eat them, and that can harm them!
Further reading for your responsible adult: from the (former) Department of the Environment and Heritage.
Can I walk over that unmarked sand track?
Stick to the path! I know it’s lots of fun adventuring over the dunes and through the bushes, but walking over unmarked sand tracks can cause the sand to run away! (Again, erosion to you grown ups) Special types of plants, mostly grasses and native creeping ground cover, help trap the sand from the beach and assist the dunes in growing bigger, and keeping the sand and the land separate.
Always leave the beach the way you found it: shake off all that sand, take all your rubbish, leftover food, and anything you brought to the beach away with you. And maybe consider taking 3 for the sea.
Okay, great. Stay hydrated, stay safe, and don’t get sunburnt, Australia. And ask if you have any questions about ecologically responsible beach behaviour.