Sea Coconut Drifts from South America to St. Pete Beach

by BeachHunter on July 18, 2009

Holding a sea coconut (Manicaria saccifera) I just found on Upham beach.

Holding a sea coconut (Manicaria saccifera) I just found on Upham beach.

Posted by David McRee at BlogTheBeach.com.

While on Upham beach this morning gathering a couple of bags of sargassum seaweed for my garden, I spotted this sea coconut in the wrack line.  It’s not a real coconut, but it does come from a palm tree. These are very common on the Atlantic coast, but are quite uncommon on the Gulf coast.

A sea coconut is a “drift seed.” In other words, it is a seed that has drifted far from the tree that gave it life by floating on the ocean currents.

The sea coconut is the seed of a tropical palm called the sleeve palm, busso palm, or troolie palm which grows in the Amazon basin, on the island of Trinidad, and on the Caribbean coasts of Central and northern South America, according to Perry and Dennis in their book Sea-Beans From the Tropics. This palm produces the largest entire leaves of any known palm and is excellent for thatched roofs.

Sea coconut on the beach, in the wrack line.

Sea coconut on the beach, in the wrack line. This seed most likely drifted clockwise around the entire Gulf of Mexico before being blown up onto Upham beach by the westerly winds that have prevailed for the last few weeks.

Quite a few people enjoy walking the beaches looking for and collecting sea-beans. It so happens that Florida’s Atlantic coast is an excellent place to find sea-beans that drift in from far away continents. A few days of moderate east winds divert seabeans from the Gulf Stream onto Florida’s beaches.

Each year in October, sea-bean collectors from all over the world gather at the Cocoa Beach Public Library for a 2-day International Sea-bean Symposium. We attended last year and had a wonderful time. Sea-beans can be polished to a high luster and can be made into beautiful jewelry, which you’ll find on display and for sale in abundance at the Symposium.

Bill Blazek, pictured below, has a collection of over 42,000 sea-beans. He polishes them by hand–with sandpaper–and generously displays his finest at the Symposium. He’s not a vendor; he just loves to walk the beaches to collect and polish sea-beans. At last year’s Symposium he gave an excellent “how-to” presentation.

Bill Blazek displays his prodigious collection of sea coconuts at the International Sea-bean Symposium in Cocoa Beach.

Bill Blazek displays a small portion of his prodigious collection of sea coconuts at the International Sea-bean Symposium in Cocoa Beach. Photo courtesy of Matt MacQueen.

A closer look at Bill Blazek's collection of sea coconuts, each polished by hand with progressively finer grades of sandpaper. They are beautiful.

A closer look at Bill Blazek's collection of sea coconuts, each polished by hand with progressively finer grades of sandpaper. They are beautiful. Photo courtesy of Matt MacQueen.

If you like beachcombing and are curious about nature, you should consider coming over to the Symposium this October 16th and 17th, 2009 to check it out. You’ll meet all kinds of interesting people, like Dr. Curtis Ebbesmeyer, who has spent years studying ocean currents by monitoring things that wash up on the beaches. Or Dr. Blair Witherington, who is a fountain of knowledge on Florida nature in general, and sea turtles in particular. Blair exhibits the books he has written and that his wife Dawn Witherington has beautifully illustrated. Dawn has her artwork on display and for sale at the Symposium.

For more information about the International Sea-Bean Symposium and about sea-beans in general, visit www.seabeans.com. You can also read the archive of their sea-bean newsletter “The Drifting Seed” that circulates world-wide.

Here’s a great article on beachcombing and “beaning.”

Perhaps I’ll see you at the Symposium in October!

{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

1 jenni July 20, 2009 at 10:27 am

Your posts are always so informative; I learn something new almost every time I visit! Thanks again!

2 Alan July 26, 2009 at 5:14 am

Thanks for the post. I’m a Floridian living in Africa and see these beauties all around the coast and in the markets. Its neat to know the ocean currents connect us more than we know.

3 beachhunter July 26, 2009 at 8:46 am

Thanks for stopping by and commenting Alan. I visited your blog, http://orangeblossomtrails.wordpress.com/. It’s developing into a very nice read. I see you are from Lakeland. I have family there. Too far from the beach for me though…

4 JOE THOMPSON July 29, 2009 at 9:06 am

HAVE YOU EVER HEARD OF A PROCESS OF POLISHING SEA BEANS WITH A ROCK TUMBLER ?

5 beachhunter July 29, 2009 at 10:11 am

Hi Joe,
Yes, some collectors use rock tumblers to polish their sea beans. In fact, last year at the Sea-Bean Symposium there was a demonstration / presentation on how to do it, based on one person’s experiences.

In the book Sea-Beans from the Tropics, Perry & Dennis devote several pages to explaining the process of polishing sea-beans with a tumbler.

6 John March 12, 2010 at 1:47 pm

Great post! I’m about as far from the ocean as you can get (Kansas) but I’d love to have some sea coconuts. Is there an on-line site that sells sea coconuts (and/or star nuts and hamburger beans)? Thanks!

John

7 beachhunter March 12, 2010 at 3:14 pm

Hi John,
Offhand I don’t know of a specific vendor that would sell seabeans, but you can inquire at http://seabean.com/
Most people that collect the beans seem to be more interested in collecting than in selling, but the seabean.com website might be able to give you a contact that has some for sale.

8 Ellen Ridgeway August 16, 2010 at 8:26 am

I recently got interested in seabeans while working with BP and turtles during the beach cleaning. My first coconut brust and fell apart. What can I do to avoid this as I found two more yesterday. Thanks.?

9 beachhunter August 16, 2010 at 9:26 am

Hi Ellen,
Sea coconuts do not have a very thick shell, so the ones that are older and have more wear and exposure do tend to break. Just keep looking and you’ll find one that is in better shape and is more durable.

10 teresa May 29, 2011 at 11:54 pm

I recently was in Florida at Cape San Blas and i found what looks like sea coconuts…. I think. The difference is that there are 3 joined together. I noticed that the pics of the ones shown of Bill Blazek’s are shiney….mine has a ruff husk coating….hmmmm If I remove the hard outer coating and sand them …will they be shiney as well?
Just wondering…If I knew how to post a pic I would . I would like to know for sure what this is I have found.
Teresa
Curious in Ga

11 beachhunter May 30, 2011 at 10:15 am

Hi Teresa, yes it sounds like you’ve found sea coconuts. Finding two or three together in their husk is very rare and worth keeping intact. Here’s a link with photos, though not of three together like you have: http://www.seabean.com/guide/Manicaria_saccifera/

But yes, if you removed the husk, they should polish nicely.

12 Candyce January 17, 2012 at 8:58 pm

Good evening BH,
Recently my Husband & I had the pleasure of a stay at Beach Place Condos, neighboring the bridge at John’s Pass, in Madeira Beach. The beach was truly a beautiful site to see except on the morning of 1-4-2012, allot of odd debri had washed ashore. With camera in hand, off we went to satisfy our curiosity. We were amazed at the range and amount of sea life before us.
This evening I decided to attempt identification of those in the pics I did take and stubbled across your site. I wanted to let you know that we saw many of the Sea Coconuts as shown in the Upham Beach photo, seemingly small coconuts and some attached to others as you’ve described above. Now that I’ve read your article, I’m somewhat put out with myself for not taking pics of them for you to see.
Take care and happy beach hunting to you!

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