Jessica Paglia is a sea glass hunter. She not only values but collects discarded items and displays them proudly on the mantel of her home.
By the time Paglia picks it up, the glass looks more like treasure than garbage. Sea glass is broken pieces of glass that have been worn down by water, sand and rocks until the shards are smooth and polished—but it doesn’t start out that way. Most green pieces come from old Coca-Cola bottles, gray glass generally comes from old television sets, and brown and clear (the two most commonly found colors according to Paglia) are usually pieces of beer and milk bottles.
“Some of the places that I hunt are … old farms on the water, and they were actually dumping sites,” Paglia says. “Back in the day, they would throw all their trash or bury it, and then as the water comes in and erodes the land, it’ll fall into the water.”
Hunting for sea glass isn’t a new hobby for Paglia; it’s been a constant presence for most of her life. Paglia, 36, of Easton, says she first started picking up sea glass as a teenager and has continued the hobby periodically since then. What has changed, however, is the amount of sea glass she’s able to find.
“I started doing it when I started driving,” Paglia said. “I used to go to Claiborne Beach and I would just pick it up and I loved it, and then I stopped doing it. And then, probably 10 years ago, I got back into it, and noticed how little I’m finding compared to when it was just everywhere.”
For that change, Paglia credits a few things. Events like St. Michaels’ annual Sea Glass Festival have helped grow an appreciation for the beauty of sea glass and widened the appeal of searching for it. The community of people who already hunt sea glass are always welcoming in new members and helping them find their way — Paglia credits a friend named Mary McCarthy for doing just that for her. The hobby is inexpensive and doesn’t take much to get started. And it’s impossible to overstate the impact social media has had on introducing sea glass hunting to wider and diverse audiences.
Paglia doesn’t mind the company, though. She says the combination of learning more about sea glass and pieces being harder to find actually makes it a little more fun.
“I like the excitement of finding something different. Now I throw a lot of stuff back. It used to be anything I found I would keep. But now, (I only keep it) if I find a really cool shape or an intact bottle or I find a neat color that I don’t have a lot of,” Paglia says. “It’s just really fun to find something that you’ve been looking for, for a long time … it’s like the thrill of the hunt.”
Thrills aside—and there have been a few, including one instance when a large black snake decided to hitch a ride in her kayak while out hunting—looking for sea glass is really about relaxing and unwinding for Paglia. It’s a hobby that takes patience, a hobby she can share with her family, and a hobby that reminds her to appreciate the little things.
“The spirit of sea glass is that you’ve taken something that’s broken and worthless and you’ve made it into a beautiful treasure,” Paglia says. “And I think that’s … good for the human soul.”
Search unexpected places. It’s all about nooks and crannies, Paglia says. In addition to sea glass, she also collects sea-worn marbles, which are usually stuck hidden between larger rocks. She also recommends checking out places that have previously served as trash dumping sites and looking for what’s buried in land that’s eroding.
Pay attention to the tides. Paglia says some of the best places to look are completely covered by water at high tide. She recommends hunting during low tide or a negative low tide, which can happen after storms or during the winter.
Look for a rocky coastline. Paglia says most people assume sea glass is readily available on sandy beaches, but actually rocks and pebbles help shape and collect most pieces. She says to look for places where debris collects on the shore, because that’s where the best things wash up. Be careful though, and make sure it has a surface area you can walk on without slipping and losing your finds.