Tattered Jeans

Why Galveston's seaweed is anything but gross: It's time to embrace this beach gold

Why Galveston's seaweed is anything but gross: Embrace the beach gold

1 Katie Oxford seaweed April 2015 After a storm, it blanketed the beach like wet draperies
After a storm, seaweed blanketed the beach like wet draperies last summer. Photo by Katie Oxford
2 Katie Oxford seaweed April 2015 Seaweed was our seine.
Seaweed is our Seine. Photo by Katie Oxford
3 Katie Oxford seaweed April 2015 Seaweed builds beaches.
Seaweed builds beaches. Photo by Katie Oxford
4 Katie Oxford seaweed April 2015 Sand latches on to it . . .
Sand latches on to it. Photo by Katie Oxford
5 Katie Oxford seaweed April 2015 Plants latch on to it. . .”
Plants latch on to it. Photo by Katie Oxford
6 Katie Oxford seaweed April 2015 Beach freshly scraped.
Beach freshly scraped. Photo by Katie Oxford
1 Katie Oxford seaweed April 2015 After a storm, it blanketed the beach like wet draperies
2 Katie Oxford seaweed April 2015 Seaweed was our seine.
3 Katie Oxford seaweed April 2015 Seaweed builds beaches.
4 Katie Oxford seaweed April 2015 Sand latches on to it . . .
5 Katie Oxford seaweed April 2015 Plants latch on to it. . .”
6 Katie Oxford seaweed April 2015 Beach freshly scraped.

Seaweed is “gross” to some people. Others go, “Pee-U.” But, in my mind, it conjures up sweet visions of summers spent along Bolivar Peninsula . . . with salt on top. 

When I was a kid, seaweed on the beach was as common as seeing clouds in the sky. After a storm, it blanketed the beach like wet draperies. Heavy and thick. But, to my siblings and me, Sargasso goo was a good thing. Seaweed was something we played in, around and with.

We’d draw a face in the sand and use clumps of seaweed to give it hair.  About every sand castle we built started with a pile of seaweed. But, I’ll get to the foundation stuff later. 

Seaweed was our Seine. Woven by Mother Nature herself. If you looked through it carefully, you could always find treasure. For my brothers, that was fish. For me, sea beans — more precious than sand dollars.  Over the summers, I found hundreds of em.' Mostly, the ones called Sea Heart (my favorite), and Coral Bean.

 To my brothers and their friends, seaweed was good ammo. They’d sling it at one another or, wad it up and throw it like a baseball.  

Once, our family of six combed the beach looking through masses of seaweed but not for either. My oldest brother had lost his glasses for the umpteenth time so we spread out like we were hunting Easter eggs. Around sunset, everyone gave up except Mama. Sure enough, a little later we heard her squealing — saw her jumping up and down lifting Tommy’s glasses in the air like a lit torch.

Daddy, who’d made a bet with her, was shaking his head and smiling even though realizing he’d just lost. “I’ll be damn,” he said.

To my brothers and their friends, seaweed was good ammo. They’d sling it at one another or, wad it up and throw it like a baseball. Our dogs went ape over the stuff. If they weren’t rootin’ around in it for something to eat, they rolled in it like a cat in catnip. 

On some mornings, I swear the beach glowed. The light made the seaweed glitter — like stars I thought.  When it twinkled like this, I’d remember Rumpelstiltskin, turning straw into gold. If it was mysterious to me then, it seems straight out of mythology now. How cool that a dark floating mass one day rolls into a soft golden bed the next — offering up a smorgasbord of surprise to some. Food, to others. 

Seaweed helps beaches grow. Duh. Sand latches on to it, providing a natural foundation for dunes. But, try explaining this to the scrappers and you might get scrapped yourself. Thankfully though, it seems like some Galveston officials finally get it.

The other thing about seaweed is — it helps make the beach, well, smell like one. Salty. I can think of a lot of things that smell a hell of a lot worse sometimes. The air we breathe — our rivers and bays.

Today, researchers at NASA and Texas A&M Galveston have launched a new website that provides a satellite view showing where seaweed is drifting and how much is out there. It even offers predictions of where it will come ashore. (They say Galveston should experience fewer problems with seaweed this summer as currents steer it toward the Caribbean islands and Mexicans Yucatán instead.)

High tech stuff and all good, but, if you’re an ole beachcomber from way back, you’ll go to the beach anyway. Find pleasure in the gold.