The seabeans that wash up on Florida beaches usually begin their life in a tropical rain forest as a flowering vine, shrub or tree. The fruit or seed pod of the plant falls to the forest floor and is washed by heavy rains into a stream or river. It is then carried out to sea, where it may float on the surface of the sea and drift with the ocean currents for many years before washing up onto a beach as a "seabean." For this reason, seabeans are often referred to as "drift seeds." Collectors sometimes refer to themselves as "drifters."
Seabeans come in many sizes, shapes and colors. Some are common, but others are extremely rare and highly prized by collectors.
What Do Seabeans Look Like?
They usually look like large seeds or nuts. Some are round, some are flat, some smooth and some rough. Above is an assortment we found on Indialantic Beach during an hour of beachcombing. All of the globe-shaped beans across the top of the photo are sea coconuts and are about 2 inches in diameter. Some have goose barnacles growing on them. Note that two of the items we found were not actually seabeans. We found a plastic toy in the shape of a fish, and two dried egg cases from a clear-nose skate (a skate is a type of ray).
Above is a Hamburger bean (left) and a sea coconut, both seeds from a tropical rain forest vine. The sea coconut is not actually a coconut, nor is it related to the coconut.
Where Are Seabeans Found?
Seabeans are usually found in the wrack. Beach wrack is the line of debris, usually dominated by Sargassum seaweed, deposited on the beach at the tide line. The seabeans float with the Sargassum and wash ashore with it. To find the beans, you have to pick through the wrack. The wrack contains all kinds of stuff, some of which can sting you, or which may harbor bacteria, so you should use a stick or beach rake.
In Florida, the vast majority of seabeans are found on the Atlantic Coast. Very few are found on the Gulf side. This is because of the water currents. The Gulf Stream brings the seabeans up the Atlantic coast where they may be blown onto the beaches if there are several days of brisk easterly winds. There are seabeans floating in the Gulf of Mexico, but they don't usually wash up on Florida beaches. Texas and Mexico beaches are fantastic places to find seabeans.
Above you can see a clump of Sargassum that is about to come ashore with the surf along Florida's Atlantic coast. It probably has several nice seabeans hiding in it!
Right in the middle of the above photo you can see a sea coconut with several goose barnacles on it. It is tucked into the Sargassum in the beach wrack. This is exactly where I found it. Some are covered up with Sargassum and not so easily seen.
In the center of the above photo is a tropical almond seabean. Can you see the red plastic lid in the wrack on the right side of the photo? Florida's Atlantic beaches have quite a lot of bits of plastic in the wrack. We don't have much plastic flotsam on the Gulf coast beaches. And not many seabeans either.
Above is a good reason to use a stick or beach rake to pick through the beach wrack when searching for seabeans. You can clearly see the blue/purple translucent bubble float of the Portuguese man-of-war jellyfish. The man-of-war also blows ashore with the Sargassum and is often tangled and buried in it. It can give you a nasty sting even after it is dead and dried up.
Who Collects Seabeans?
People who love beachcombing on beaches where seabeans are common usually find that looking for seabeans fits right into their hobby. Seabean collectors often refer to themselves as "beaners," and their activity as "beaning."
Artists and craftspersons also collect seabeans because they are great material for craft projects and artwork, and they make beautiful jewelry when polished.
Searching for seabeans is a very relaxing and rewarding activity. Some beaners even carry along an extra bag and pick up trash while they are beaning.
Seabeans make beautiful jewelry when they are properly polished. Above are seabean bracelets my wife bought at the International Seabean Symposium held each October in Cocoa Beach, Florida.
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Seabeans - Finding, Identifying and Collecting
Frequently Asked Questions