Who wants to go to the beach? This question is almost always answered with “ME!” in our family. During the summer we set out on a family trip - pack up our beach buggy (a large cart which holds just about everything) and spend the day with our toes in the sand or surf. The outside time is gold. My curious children combined with multiple hours by the ocean has led to many inquiries about their surroundings.
Often I have no idea what the answer is and I end up saying, “I don’t know.” My daughter actually said to me once, “Do you know anything about the beach and ocean?” I created this list of questions and answers so, unlike me, you will know the correct response and hopefully prevent your children from wondering if you passed high school science class. (For the record I got an A in Biology.) Besides helping you appear smart to your children, you can also use this list to create a trivia game.
"Why does it sound like the ocean when you hold a shell up to your ear?"
It is actually the sound of your own ear fluid being echoed back to you.
"How are seashells made?"
One common type of seashell is the one found on clams. To create the shell the clam takes in salt and chemicals from the ocean water. The clam uses these materials to produce calcium carbonate which is secreted on the outside of their bodies and hardens to create a shell.
"How is sea glass made?"
Sea glass is the result of people discarding glass into the ocean. It can take decades before the glass becomes smooth. This process is a result of the glass being tossed around by the ocean waves and being dragged against the sand.
"Is sea glass worth money?"
It can be. Similar to gems, it depends on different factors such as the color and shape. One piece of sea glass has sold for over $1,000.
What most people refer to as a seagull is actually called a Herring Gull. The Herring Gull can differ in size and color depending on the age. Adults are mostly white with a gray back. Baby Herring Gulls are brown. These types of birds are scavengers and are usually found near food. There is also another type of bird called the Great Black-backed Gull which is found along the coasts and looks similar to the Herring Gull. This bird is the largest gull in the world. There are two dozen different species of gulls living in North America.
"How can the seagull drink the sea water?"
The seagull has special glands in their eyes which allow them to excrete the salt.
"Do seagulls have nests and lay eggs?"
Yes, seagulls lay eggs and have nests. Seagulls often place the nest near a rock, log or bush to protect it from predators and strong wind.
"Is a starfish a fish?"
It is actually called a sea star and is not a starfish. Sea stars do not have fins or gills which are found on fish. This type of creature is an Echinodermata which is in the same category as a sand dollar, sea urchin and sea cucumbers. A fun fact about sea stars is it can regenerate an arm.
"Why do the tides change?"
Tides are caused by the gravitational pull of the sun and moon as well as the Earth rotation.
"How do people know the times of low and high tides?"
Creating a tide chart with the times of high and low tide is not an exact science. Factors such as ocean current, winds, and the contour of the ocean bottom can all influence what time high/low tide will occur. The official source in the United States for predicting tides is the Center for Operational Oceanographic Products and Services (CO-OPS). There are 140 tide stations which measure tide levels, wind speed and direction, water current speed and directions, air and water temperatures, and barometric pressure. These measurements collected together create the tidal chart times.
"What causes ocean waves?"
Waves are the result of winds moving over the ocean surface. The friction between the air and the water transfers the energy between the two, and that transfer of energy is what creates the wave.
"How is sand on the beach created?"
Sand is created mostly of quartz rocks. The rocks were broken down by wind and rain and then transported to the beach by water.
"What causes an ocean sandbar?"
An ocean sandbar is created by waves pulling the sand further into the ocean. When there is a storm or large waves a sandbar can form farther from the shoreline. If there are many large waves or storms, a barrier island can form.
How to encourage your future marine biologist
If your children are interested in marine biology and ecology, you can go to your local library and borrow books on the topic. For example, there are books about conducting science experiments or identifying different types of ocean organisms. Our favorite books are related to beachcombing.