Sea Bean Symposium,
These two articles, written by Beth Sinclair, appeared on page C1 of the "Outdoors" section in the Florida Today newspaper (Melbourne, Florida) on October 17, 1999. They are reproduced here with assistance and permission from Florida Today.
[Also, see the Oct. 25th coverage]
Florida Today newspaper

Collecting Sea Beans a Unique Hobby
Collecting sea-beans in the wrack line
COLLECTORS search through the wrack for sea beans along a Brevard County beach. The group includes [left to right] Cathy Yow, Cathie Katz, Cecelia Abbott and Ed Perry. Sea beans always are more abundant following the passage of a hurricane or other major storm. [photo: Jim Angy, for Florida Today]


sea-bean collage
FLOTSAM and sea beans present a colorful array from Brevard and Indian River County beaches.
[photo: Ed Perry,
for Florida Today]

Sea Hearts among Sargassum weed
SEAHEARTS are a favorite type of sea bean with collectors.
[photo: Ed Perry,
for Florida Today]

Sea Bean Symposium Opens Friday
By Beth Sinclair, FLORIDA TODAY, Oct. 17, 1999

   The 1999 4th Annual International Sea Bean Symposium, a three day event, will begin Friday at the Cocoa Beach Public Library, 550 N. Brevard Ave., Cocoa Beach.
   Displays and collections will be open to the public from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. each day, and presentations are scheduled throughout the three days.
   Enter the Bean-A-Thon contest Saturday and comb the beaches of Brevard between 8 and 10 a.m. to see if you can find the most species of drift seeds, the coolest seed or even the most unusual non-seed item. Prizes will go to the winners.
For more information, contact seabean headquarters or read The Drifting Seed newsletter.

[the above edited to reflect current contact information. Website manager.]

Beth Sinclair of Melbourne is a sports news assistant for Florida Today.
Skate egg cases (mermaid's purse)
SKATE'S EGG CASES wash ashore after the babies have hatched and the cases have been discarded.
[photo: Ed Perry,
for Florida Today]

Seeds catch beachgoers' curious eyes
By Beth Sinclair, FLORIDA TODAY, Oct. 17, 1999

   Besides blowing around palm fronds and trailer parks and making thousands of coastal residents wish they ignored the strong urge to live by the water, hurricanes also can be a cause for celebration to some.
   Drift seeds, skate's egg cases, plastic toys from freighter spills, fishing lures, commercial fishing floats, fossils, cuttlebones and large, impressive helmet, whelk and cowry shells are just some of the interesting items to wash in during storms.
   Few beachcombers realize all of the natural wonders brought in with the sargasso weeds that many surf fishermen dread each year.
   Drifting seeds from all land masses connected to the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico wash up on Florida's east coast beaches each year, most following the Gulf Stream, which makes a wide path along the northern half of the Atlantic Ocean.
   Summer storms, especially hurricanes that cross the Atlantic and come close to the Southeastern coast, bring in buldges of drifting material.
   The floating sargasso weeds, mixed with whatever else might be drifting around out there, washes up on the beaches and forms the wrack line. In this wrack, combers can find anything from plastic bottles and other discarded trash to delicate skeletons of deep-sea squid.
   Seeds, particularly the so-called sea beans, are the most prized of finds for many beachcombers. Mary's beans, hamburger beans, sea hearts, sea purses, nicker beans and starnut palms are among the favorites. Bay beans, sea coconuts, blister pods, coconuts and red mangrove seeds are also collected.
   Hamburger beans, sea hearts and sea purses are probably the three most popular seeds, all of which come from huge vines that grow in tropical rain forests. Most Floridians might think of pothos or kudzu as huge vines, but tropical vines often grow to 100 feet or more in length and become thicker than a man's wrist. In these forests, tropical vines like the monkey ladder vine, parent of the sea heart, can grow as much as a foot a day.
   Several combers have attempted to grow these seeds, but often have found that insects, seed predators like rats and squirrels, cold temperatures and space limitations interfere with the survival of these unusual plants.
   Ed Perry of Melbourne, a park ranger at Sebastian Inlet State Park, has successfully grown a brown hamburger bean vine to maturity. In two years, the vine has already produced several pods of hamburger beans, giving Perry, an amateur photographer and avid beachcomber, a chance to examine and photograph the development closely.
   "This is the least-explored area of botany in the world. Some of the seeds we find on our beaches elude international plant experts," Perry said. "There are actually seeds drifting up on Brevard beaches that come from plants scientists have yet to discover, or do not realize produce these kinds of seeds."
   "Last year, after the devastation of Hurricane Mitch, I found several brown nickernut seeds along the Gulf Coast, a species I had never before found."
   Cathie Katz is possibly the only resident of Melbourne Beach who actually combed the beach during Hurricane Floyd. She is the founder of the International Sea-Bean Symposium and author of the The Drifting Seed newsletter and The Florida Nature series of books.
   "There would be nothing that could have stopped me from being on the beach during the arrival of Hurricane Floyd," Katz said. "Big storms like Floyd can bring seeds and other materials that have been floating in the world's ocean currents for years."
   Katz, who has lived in Brevard County since 1983, began her beachcombing career as a girl in Holland and later explored the beaches of Spain, Portugal, New Jersey and finally Florida. She says that the flotsam yield of Florida's beaches far exceeds that of any beach from her past.
   "When I first started finding all these things on Florida's beaches, these gifts from the sea, nobody knew what they were," Katz said. "I asked surfers, fishermen, old-timers and finally Tucker Abbott of international shell fame, and even he knew little about these peculiar items."
   Her top beachcombing finds include a plastic-wrapped package of papers from a Cuban man, including his driver's license and birth certificate, that floated to shore during the Cuban raft spree of 1994. A year later she found the man alive in Miami, and gave him his life's history back.
   Katz has also found a porcelain, bowling ball-sized Portuguese fishing float, an antique among the thousands of plastic fishing floats used today.
   But what sticks in her mind as the most significant find was her first mermaid's purse, or skate's egg case, which spurred her to write The Florida Nature series. Skates are closely related to stingrays and lay rectangular eggs in leathery cases, which anchor on the ocean floor until the embryo hatches and swims away.
   Currents and waves break the egg's anchors, and many of the empty casings end up washing ashore. Because she didn't know what the find was, it created a strong urge to identify the many odd gifts Katz found laying in the sand.
   In addition to her books, Katz put together the newsletter -- which reports on drift material and beach flotsam from around the world -- and the annual symposium.
   "The very reason I put together this symposium was to bring the world's beachcombing and ocean sciences experts together," Katz said.
   Experts and enthusiasts from around the world come to Brevard to discuss, compare and share the many different natural and man-made wonders that drift up on the world's beaches.
   "Children are especially exciting to watch at the symposium," Katz said. "As they make their way around the tables and displays, I hear many exclamations of 'cool' and 'awesome,' and I think, 'Hey, finally, here is someone that sees it the way I do.'"
   Katz and a handful of other "bean heads," as they call themselves, can often be seen bent over the wrack line along Brevard beaches throughout the year, diligently picking through the sargasso weeds, hoping to find the perfect bean.

Beth Sinclair of Melbourne is a sports news assistant for Florida Today.

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