article-imageDead Horse Bay, Brooklyn (photograph by the author)

For those with the beachcombing drive, even the most average-looking stretch of sand holds allure. But while collecting rocks and shells is nice, some beaches are home to more unusual objects. Below is a selection of beaches known for strange debris, and some of the more remarkable objects that have washed ashore:

Brooklyn, New York

article-imageHorse bone at Dead Horse Bay (photograph by the author)

Once home to a garbage dump and several horse rendering plants (hence the name), the beach at Dead Horse Bay is now embedded with pre-1950s glass bottles, broken china, cosmetics containers, leather goods, and children’s toys, plus bones and teeth from the carriage horses that once plied New York City’s streets. When the waves wash ashore, they tinkle with the sound of thousands of broken glass bottles, and previous beachcombers have built strange sculptures by weaving bottles and seaweed among the larger chunks of driftwood and tree trunks. The entire beach serves as an ad-hoc mini-museum, made by nature, that preserves New York’s domestic past. 

article-imageDebris at Dead Horse Bay (photograph by the author)

article-imageTree full of trash at Dead Horse Bay (photograph by the author)

Cornwall, England

article-imageLego on the beach (photograph by davidd)

In February of 1997, a massive wave hit the container ship Tokio Express as it was sailing off the coast of England. Nearly 4.8 million bits of Lego pieces spilled into the Atlantic. Since then, beachcombers have found thousands of brightly-colored Lego parts all along the coasts of north and south Cornwall in England, and the washed up toys even have their own Facebook page. By a strange coincidence, much of the Lego that spilled was nautical-themed, and the pieces that regularly wash ashore include miniature cutlasses, life preservers, scuba gear, octopi, and flippers, as well as dragons and daisies. An eight-foot-tall Lego man washing up on beaches around the world several years ago turned out to be the work of a performance artist, however, not the container ship spill.

Fort Bragg, California

article-imageFort Bragg glass beach (photograph by mlhradio)

From the start of the 20th century until the late 1960s, Northern Californians dumped their trash on the shore near Fort Bragg. After the local government banned the practice, decades of wind and water began turning the trash into a sparkling treasure trove of beach glass. The chunks of blue, green, red, white, and amber glass range in size from pen-tip to half-dollar, but sadly, beachcombers are not allowed to take them home.

Around the World

article-imageRubber duckie on the beach (photograph by Alexander Kaiser/pooliestudios)

In 1992, a container ship on its way to the United States from Hong Kong accidentally dumped 28,000 rubber duckies and other bath toys into the Pacific ocean. The “Friendly Floatees,” as the toys are called, have been washing up on beaches around the world ever since, and found as far afield as Australia and Scotland. One was even discovered frozen in the Arctic ice. And while the plastic is no doubt a pollutant, scientists have been been able to use the ducks’ voyages to revolutionize our understanding of ocean currents. The ducks also had a book written about them: Moby Duck

British Columbia & Washington State

article-imageA shoe on the beach (photograph by Alan Fryer)

Not everything that washes up onshore is as charming as a rubber duck. Since 2007, people in British Columbia and Washington state have found at least 15 human feet stuck inside athletic shoes and lingering on local beaches. Although the discoveries have sparked plenty of grim theories — the work of a serial killer with a foot fetish, perhaps? — feet are known to detach from corpses floating in the water after suicides and other tragedies, and the plastic padding of athletic shoes makes for a buoyant floatation device. So far two of the right feet have been matched up with two of the left, although not all the previous owners have been identified. Hoax “feet,” made from animal paws, seaweed, and what is suspected to be raw meat, have also been found planted on the beach in BC.

Strange as it may seem, feet washing ashore in British Columbia is not an entirely new phenomenon. In 1887, a knee-high boot with a severed leg inside washed up in Vancouver’s False Creek. The police impaled the leg on a pole in front of their headquarters, hoping someone would claim it, but no one ever did it. Today, the plaza near where the leg was found is called Leg-In-Boot Square

article-imageLeg-in-Boot Square (photograph by Stephen Rees)


article-imageForest of Borth (photograph by Stuart Herbert)

Earlier in 2014, ferocious winter storms scoured away the sand on this Welsh beach to reveal the remains of a forest dating back over 4,500 years. Stumps of pine, alder, birch, and oak trees make up the ghostly Forest of Borth, which has given rise to legend of an ancient kingdom, Cantre’r Gwaelod, lost beneath the sea. In 2012, preserved human and animal footprints were found on the beach, while ancient hearth stones and part of a timber walkway have also been discovered.

North Carolina

article-imageFeeding seagulls Doritos on the beach (photograph by Jeffrey Bell)

In 2006, a ship bound for Central America got caught in a nor’easter off Virginia and spilled a container of Doritos into the ocean, which then came ashore in North Carolina. Word spread and crowds descended on the beach to scoop up the chips, which were still fresh in their air-tight packaging.

Kent, England

Beachcombers in Kent’s Herne Bay have found fossilized shark teeth, Victorian coins, and prehistoric elephant tusks, among other objects. Many of the fossils on the beach date back to the Palaeocene, the geological epoch following the extinction of the dinosaurs 65 million years ago. The local museum even keeps a selection of objects from the beach, including an ancient, wizened turtle.

Want even more unusual beachcombing? Check out Atlas Obscura’s guide to glass beaches.

Bess Lovejoy is a writer, researcher, and editor based in Brooklyn. Her book Rest in Pieces was published last year by Simon & Schuster.