A Day At The Beach
By Bill Frank

     On Thursday April 15th, your editor, accompanied by fellow shell enthusiast Jim Miller from Tallahassee, traveled to Cumberland Island, Georgia to take advantage of the afternoon’s nearly minus one-foot tide. After meeting at the ranger station in St. Marys, we boarded the Cumberland Queen for a crowded but enjoyable 45-minute ferry ride to the island.

     After disembarking at the Sea Camp Dock, we immediately spotted club member and island resident Carol Ruckdeschel sitting on the porch at the ranger station awaiting the ferry’s arrival. I had written Carol a week previous advising her of our trip. But as it turned out, Carol was at the dock to pick up her once a week mail delivery which likely included the aforementioned letter. Much to our chagrin, Carol advised that the Cumberland beaches were virtually devoid of shells - a situation vastly different from that encountered during previous visits to the island. Due to other commitments, Carol was unable to accompany us on our sojourn to the beach.

     Following a brisk ten-minute walk to the beach, we quickly confirmed Carol’s diagnosis – the beach was in fact bare and the wrack line contained nothing. However, a "stiff" offshore wind had produced an early low tide so to the water’s edge we went and the search was on.

     Jim specifically had wanted to visit the island to collect Busycon carica eliceans (Montfort, 1810), and he was not to be disappointed. We had walked less than 20 feet before the first buried specimen was found with only its siphon showing above the sand. We decided to head northward and walked several miles before retracing our steps back to Sea Camp for lunch and desperately in need of liquid refreshment.

     During this first trip, we dug-up and examined hundreds of Busycon specimens – culling and keeping only the best. Other species seen living or collected alive included Neverita duplicata (Say, 1822) (a modest number), Oliva sayana Ravenel, 1834 (one small one), Terebra dislocata (Say, 1822) (millions), Sinum perspectivum (Say, 1831) (a modest number), Eurytellina alternata  (Say, 1822) (a few), and sand dollars (hundreds).

     Following lunch while the tide was ebbing still further, it was time to head toward the south end of the island. The same species in similar or slightly greater numbers were found on the several miles of beach which we covered before our return to Sea Camp to do a final cull of the days catch. We had also wanted to collect specimens of two other Busycon species found on the island (Busycon perversum (Linnaeus, 1758) and Busycotypus canaliculatus (Linnaeus, 1758)). However, despite the fact that every buried Busycon seen was exhumed and examined, not a single specimen of these two taxa was found.

     Interestingly, the lack of fresh-dead material in the wrack line may have prompted the islands sea birds (presumably gulls) to go on the offensive to survive. Several Busycon which had not buried deeply enough in the sand or at an angle near perpendicular to the beach were found in situ with the mollusk totally consumed and the operculum lying nearby. A similar fate was noted for one specimen of Tellina alternata. It should be noted that the gulls were more than happy to share our lunch – whether ham or peanut butter sandwiches.

     By now we were both tired, the wind had increased to near gale force sandblasting us on the beach, and it was time to head back to the Sea Camp Dock to await the 4:45 PM ferry back to St. Marys. Our first view of the whitecaps in Cumberland Sound from the Sea Camp Dock only confirmed the obvious – it was going to be an interesting ride back to St. Marys.

     The Cumberland Queen arrived from St. Marys on schedule and off we went – once again with a near full load of passengers. Because of the Queen’s displacement hull and sea-state, we took a lot of spray over the starboard side which forced everyone to seek shelter on the port side. This action caused the ferry to list slight to port causing heavy spray there as well. To make a long story short – we all got wet from the spray along with our gear as the spray ran across the deck and exited through the scuppers.

     Even though we didn’t take all the species we had been seeking, and we sustained a somewhat wet conclusion, it was a very enjoyable trip to this pristine island off southeast Georgia – truly a special place whether you collect shells or not.