Treasure Hunting along the Ocean

I’m walking along the sandy white beach of Gulf Shores, Alabama, looking for treasures from the sea. Today I chose a remote stretch of beach, one littered with barnacle-covered driftwood and debris such as bottles, ropes, and bent crab traps. In the 45 years I’ve explored these beaches, I’ve found many unusual items, most of which inspire a story.

I peer into the shallow water looking for crabs, stingrays, jellyfish, or other exotic sea life. One spring, a strange weather phenomenon caused hundreds of starfish to wash ashore on a popular section of beach. People tried to save them by throwing them back into the water, but few survived. My husband and I brought some back for our science classes. We tried to preserve them with a solution, but they still stunk so bad, we had to throw them away.

I nearly step on the skull of what I assume is a fish. Once, I found a basketball-sized skull that I believed belonged to a dolphin. Another time, an entire dead dolphin washed ashore, making people question what caused its death.

I’m not the only person who often finds dead things along the beach. According to the June 14, 2023 “Biloxi Sun Herald,”, a 14-foot great hammerhead shark washed up near here. Investigators were in for an even bigger surprise when they cut it open. ‘“The shark was pregnant with 40 shark pups!’ the City of Orange Beach Coastal Resources reported in a Facebook post. None of the dozens of pups survived.”

I’d rather find something fun such as the barnacle-covered bottle discovered by a beachcomber in January 2012. Inside was an anniversary message from a man who lived in Clinton, Mississippi, and included his contact information. The finder got to tell the couple they’d found the note that honored their 27th anniversary.

I hope I don’t find anything I’d need to report to the police. In May 2015, a group monitoring protected turtles on Orange Beach found a 10-pound package of marijuana valued at $8,000. The police had no idea how long it had been in the water or where it came from.

I’d love to find something valuable. A couple using metal detectors along this same Gulf Coast found a gold grill, a fashion accessory worn like a mouthguard. Studded with white, yellow, and blue diamonds, it was appraised at between $20,000 and $40,000. Had someone who was into body art, maybe a rap star, lost it? Why had no one reported the loss? I spend several delicious moments imagining the details.

One of my more inspiring sights was the remains of a wooden shipwreck, the Rachel. Seeing the skeleton of the three-masted ship used as a lumber schooner in 1923 conjured up the image of colorful pirates, treasure chests, and rum runners. I wish I knew some of the Rachel’s stories.

According to, on October 16, 1923, the Rachel attempted to hold her own against hurricane-like winds and slashing rains “by dropping heavy anchors and reducing canvas down to bare poles… Being in ballast (without cargo), the Rachel was swept ashore like flotsam and grounded ‘high and dry.’ Happily, her crew remained aboard and was safe.”

It’s believed the ship was burned to retrieve valuable iron, such as nails, and then abandoned to the seas. Might the Gulf’s strong winds or hurricanes shift the sands so other gems appear someday? One thing’s for sure. I plan on returning anytime I can, for beach combing is an inspirational treasure chest of stories.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *