As long as I can remember, I have collected interesting bits of rock, looking at their shapes and colours, and wondering what they were. This was fine as long as I had a garden shed of my own to keep them all in. I read some geology as a hobby and began to recognise a few of them, but then age caught up with me and I had to move to a smaller flat and there is simply no room for more rocks. In fact, I had to dispose of many of my old ones. Eventually, it dawned on me that sand is also rock, although made up of rather small pieces, and would not take up too much room, so why not collect that? After all, I was living at the seaside.

Fig. 1. These translucent green grains from South Point, Hawaii, are olivine. The pounding surf erodes a forty-nine-thousandyear- old volcanic cinder cone made of olivine. As the cone erodes, the olivine crystals become beach sand. Very few beaches consist of pure olivine; however, if there is olivine in a sand, that indicates it is a volcanic region. Magnified 250 times.

I really thought I had invented this hobby and was amazed to discover on the Internet that I was an arenologist or possibly an arenophile (from the Latin arena, meaning sand). There is an International Sand Collectors Society in America, which I joined, and now have email friends all over the place, with whom to exchange sands from different areas and an interesting journal to read.

Fig. 2. The beach at Plum Island, Rowley, Massachusetts, USA, gets its pink color from garnets in the sand. As garnet is denser than most other sand grains, it gets left behind as the waves sweep the less dense material farther away. Magnified 60 times.

Members of the US society have different motives for collecting. Some want to collect sands from every country in the world or just from their own region. Others are interested in coloured or unusual sands. I decided that when I acquired a sand, I wanted to know what it was made of and how it got there. This means I have quite a small collection, compared to the hundreds held by some people, but this just reflects the time I spend studying it, trying to identify the grains and researching the geology of the area surrounding the site where it was collected. My first project was to get a sample from every beach around Mounts Bay in Cornwall, where I live, and then work out why they were different. This is ongoing.

READ MORE...To view the rest of this article, you need A subscription. FROM JUST £2.95.

If you are already a subscriber, login here.

 Dawn Walker (UK)

Buy Fossils, Crystals, Tools
Subscribe to Deposits
Join Fossil Hunts
UK Fossil Locations