Thanks to people who ignore the rules, Mendocino County's Glass Beach is rapidly fading away
Glass Beach is best viewed at low tide, and it is pocketed with tide pools where sea anemones rest among motley-colored pebbles. Photo by Travis Burke
There is a beach in Fort Bragg, California, that’s famous for the iridescent sea glass that shimmers on its shores. A dump until the 1960s, Glass Beach underwent massive cleanup projects in the late 1990s and early 2000s, but the glass from bottles and other items remained, worn smooth over time as it tumbled through the ocean.
Glass Beach is one of Mendocino County’s most popular tourist spots, as it’s one of the most abundant sources of sea glass in the world. But if you want to see this California treasure, go now, because it will likely be gone before we know it.
“Everybody is taking the glass and collecting it, so there’s not as much as there used to be,” said a clerk at Fort Bragg’s tourist information office.
In fact, even though removing sea glass from the beach is prohibited, rangers from California State Parks, which owns the beach, see people taking the smooth, pebble-like glass pieces home in Ziploc bags and buckets all the time. They try to stop people who fill up canisters as large as trashcans with sea glass, but there’s only so much they can prevent, they say.
The locals will tell you that the beach used to be covered in a foot of sea glass so smooth you could walk on it with bare feet, but these days there are sections of the 38-acre beach where glass is difficult to come by. Many say their only hope is to spread the word about the beach and what’s threatening it, crossing their fingers that people will begin minding the signs that say “glass collecting prohibited.”
For many, the destruction of Glass Beach is ironic, as it was the human penchant for destruction that created the beach in the first place. Without human waste, the beach would never have existed.
For now, Glass Beach remains—and here’s to hoping we humans can keep it that way.
Glass Beach from above; photo by Travis Burke
Many of the most colorful and beautiful pieces of glass have been stolen from the beach. Photo by Travis Burke
People tend to ignore the signs that say glass collecting is prohibited. Photo by Travis Burke
Stop by the beach any day and you will see people placing glass in plastic bags and canisters. This woman inspects a glass piece for her collection. Photo by Travis Burke
Three people look for sea glass; photo by Travis Burke
While Glass Beach is the most popular spot for sea glass in Mendocino County, the area is actually home to two other sea glass beaches. They are both difficult to access, and one of them is surrounded by private land, which is why they are rarely visited. Photo by Travis Burke
The beach—and Mendocino County—is also a nice place to visit for its natural beauty. Photo by Travis Burke
A younger piece of sea glass that hasn’t yet been smoothed out by water and time. Photo by Travis Burke
Glass Beach from above and below; photo by Travis Burke