A Moment of Science

Glass Beaches

Florida has begun using glass as sand at the beach as a way to keep its shores friendly to both tourists and wildlife.

Beach and ocean

Photo: Brian E. Ford (flickr)

Beaches like this one in West Palm Beach, Florida could one day be made of glass in order to restore any damage caused by erosion

All over the country, beach managers have tried to make beaches safer by discouraging the use of glass bottles on the sand.

Florida, however, has actually begun using glass as sand at the beach as a way to keep its shores friendly to both tourists and wildlife.

A stable beach is important for human use and for many wildlife populations. Each year, the ocean surf causes substantial erosion of these beaches as it carries tons of sand with it back into the ocean. The most common way to restore the sand lost to erosion is to pipe it from the ocean floor back up to the beach. This method, though, is expensive and does damage to the fragile ecosystems on the ocean floor.

In the search for an alternative to this costly and destructive piping method, scientists turned to crushed glass. The glass was made into pieces roughly two-hundredth-of-an-inch (.02) in size that were similar in shape and texture to ordinary sand. The glass sand was then tested to make sure that it would not only look like sand, but would also behave like sand in the natural environment.

Researchers found that the glass sand was very similar to ordinary sand in terms of heat, moisture and oxygen levels. They also determined that the glass sand was suitable for those who inhabit the beach, from microorganisms to crabs and turtles. Thanks to these scientists, today you can visit one of these lovely, sparkling beaches and even build a glass castle in the sand.

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