Sea Glass A Disappearing Treasure

Most people visit the beach for its natural beauty. But reporter Nancy Cohen of member station WNPR in Hartford, Connecticut, introduces us to a woman who visits the beach for its trash.

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Most people visit the beach for its natural beauty. But reporter Nancy Cohen of member station WNPR in Hartford, Connecticut, introduces us to a woman who visits the beach for its trash.

Ms. SUE GRAY FITZPATRICK: There might be a blue behind your foot there. Hows that for eyes?

NANCY COHEN: Sue Gray Fitzpatrick spends at least a day a week scaling for bits of colored grass, smoothed by the waves and rocks in Newport, Rhode Island. She has been making jewelry with sea glass for more than 20 years, even though the glass was once somebody elses garbage.

Ms. FITZPATRICK: They left it behind, toss it off a ship or a boat maybe or dropped it off a cliff. Who knows how it ended up here? But, yeah, this is somebody elses trash, and now theyre my treasures.

COHEN: Today, she and other collectors are finding far less glass. That may be because there are more plastic bottles, or because recycling has increased, or because were more careful about how we throw things out. Now, there are more people hunting for the glass thats still washing up. The competition is so hot, it makes Fitzpatrick cagey.

Ms. FITZPATRICK: Its not a beach with a name.

COHEN: And if it had a name, would you give it to me?

Ms. FITZPATRICK: I might not.

COHEN: Fitzpatrick is finding mostly green glass and brown here. The brown is probably from beer bottles. But it could be old medicine bottles or the amber glass that Clorox bleach came in before 1962.

Ms. FITZPATRICK: I think part of the beauty of sea glass is wondering what it used to be.

COHEN: Blue glass could be from old Noxema or milk of magnesia bottles. Clear glass is common, orange and red are rare.

Ms. FITZPATRICK: Ill go first, so Ill lead the way.

COHEN: Fitzpatrick takes me down a steep cliff to a small cove. She plants herself strategically at the waters edge.

Ms. FITZPATRICK: Oh, my God. Look. It is red.

COHEN: Fitzpatrick spots a chunk of glass, the color of a red gumdrop.

Ms. FITZPATRICK: Better than candy, huh? I cannot even believe that I just found this here.

COHEN: And shes not sure how the piece started out.

Ms. FITZPATRICK: Its really thick. I think it was a piece of decorative glass, candy dish or something like that.

COHEN: The color alone makes this piece so rare Fitzpatrick wont sell it. Even though she has seen red glass go for more than $200 on eBay. Fitzpatrick admits, she kind of wishes more people would toss glass bottles in the ocean, but shes not counting on it.

Ms. FITZPATRICK: Someday Im not going to find sea glass. So Im going to pick all I can while I can pick, while its there, so that Ill have it.

COHEN: For NPR News, Im Nancy Cohen.

Ms. FITZPATRICK: Oh, I just saw a really nice green. Look at this. Its like a jade green.

(Soundbite of music)

HANSEN: This is NPR News.

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