National Geographic Field Guide to the Water's Edge: Beaches, Shorelines, and Riverbanks

National Geographic Field Guide to the Water's Edge: Beaches, Shorelines, and Riverbanks

by Jack Williams, Stephen Letherman


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The book guides the exploring naturalist to water's edge destinations throughout North America including Canada and Alaska.

Main sections of the book cover three ocean coastlines—Atlantic, Gulf of Mexico, and Pacific; estuaries and wetlands; lakes, including the Great Lakes; and rivers, from the great Mississippi and Columbia to backyard streams. Identification guides and interesting information on plants, animals, shells, and other curiosities to be found along each water's edge accompany photographs and illustrations. Useful and inviting sidebars enhance every page:

· Shore Science—Quick hits and fascinating facts of science along the water's edge
· Stay Safe—Alerts about shoreline dangers and how to avoid or respond to them
· Beachcomber's Guide—Illustrated key to objects found in each beach and shoreline region
· Save the Shore—Notes on how humans can hurt—and help—shoreline ecology
· Best Water's Edge—Throughout, "Dr. Beach" recommends the top beach or shoreline destinations

The book is profusely illustrated with photographs, maps, and explanatory diagrams. An introductory section provides a thorough overview of the basic science of shorelines: How water interacts with land to form beaches; how various kinds of shorelines formed; why large waves are needed to form beaches; how floods and fast-moving water alters river shorelines; how the gravitational pull of the moon and sun cause the tides; why the oceans have tides but the Great Lakes don't; how tides affect rivers far inland; the effects of latitude and climate on the formation of shorelines, including variations in plants and animals. This opening sets up all the science necessary to understand and use the rest of the book.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781426208683
Publisher: National Geographic
Publication date: 05/01/2012
Series: National Geographic Field Guides
Pages: 288
Sales rank: 1,234,465
Product dimensions: 5.42(w) x 7.82(h) x 0.60(d)

About the Author

STEPHEN LEATHERMAN is a world-renowned coastal scientist known as "Dr. Beach" from his twenty years of naming the widely publicized "Top 10 Beaches." Leatherman has written or edited 16 books, including Sea Level Rise: Causes and Consequences and America's Best Beaches.

JACK WILLIAMS is the founding weather editor for USA Today and the author or co-author of six books including The American Meteorological Society Weather Book: The Ultimate Guide to America's Weather.

Read an Excerpt

National Geographic Field Guide to the Water's Edge

Beaches, Shorelines, and Riverbanks
By Stephen Letherman

National Geographic

Copyright © 2012 Stephen Letherman
All right reserved.

ISBN: 9781426208683

Beachcombing Basics
Almost every beach visitor does a little beachcombing along the ocean’s edge to see what the tide has washed in. It is a relaxing escape from everyday concerns. Other people take their beachcombing seriously, making a hobby or even a business of collecting what they like among the many objects they find. Whether you are casual or serious, beachcombing helps you connect with the ocean and some of its creatures.
Start with the Wrack Line
Wrack refers to several species of living seaweed, as well as dead vegetation of all kinds, that are washed up by waves and often are concentrated along the high-tide line, which is called the wrack line. This long row of debris stretching along the beach almost always offers fascinating discoveries—for example, the seaweed called sargassum, which contains little brown balls. The balls keep the sargassum afloat as it circles the Sargasso Sea, a huge eddy in the middle of the Atlantic. Pieces of sargassum, including their little floats, break off and drift to beaches along the Atlantic and the Gulf of Mexico. In wrack lines you can find many of the items that are described in this chap- ter. In fact, wrack lines sometimes contain more living things than any other part of a beach. Walk along the line slowly, look carefully, and you may find many creatures that you have never seen before. Wrack offers protection, nutrients, and moisture to an entire food web that includes tiny shrimplike creatures, mole crabs, ghost crabs, and shorebirds such as terns that are foraging for a meal. Seeds and nutrients in wrack washed onto the back beach may help plants become established to stabilize new dunes.
Rules for Beachcombing
Before collecting any seashells, be aware that there may be strict government regulations to follow or private property to respect. In many locations you are not permitted to take whatever strikes your fancy. In some areas, it may be forbidden to collect seashells containing live animals and even to take empty shells. Always check for possible regulations because illegal collecting may result in substantial fines. Two examples:
1. Pay attention to strict regulations banning the collection of abalone, which are large, edible sea snails, along the California coast.
2. Florida prohibits collection of beautiful queen conchs, which have edible meat.
Even where collecting mollusks is legal, you should not interfere with nature’s food web by taking any living mollusk. Taking items besides living creatures may also be prohibited. For example, the National Park Service forbids removing sea glass or pottery from Spectacle Island in Boston Harbor, a prime site for finding sea glass.
It is especially important to learn the rules before beachcombing at national wildlife refuges, national sea- shores, and state parks—but wildlife regulations may also apply to private property. There is another good reason not to collect shells containing living animals: When the creature dies and begins to decay, its odor may quickly become unbearable, perhaps like that of rotting fish.
Sea Glass and Plastic
Many beachcombers collect pieces of glass that waves, sand, and water have tumbled and smoothed over many years, creating unique shapes, colors, and textures. Some collectors use them to make sea glass jewelry or art objects. The North American Sea Glass Association links collectors with its newsletter and collecting conventions. As plastic containers increasingly replace glass ones, sea glass is getting harder to find. Most beachcombers view the large amount of plastic waste on beaches as unsightly garbage.
Did You Know?
Black patches of beach sand do not usually come from oil spills? More often these patches contain minerals darker than the usual quartz sand.
Safety Tip
Do not pick up or prod unrecognized man-made items such as metal canisters; unexploded bombs or mines sometimes wash ashore.


Excerpted from National Geographic Field Guide to the Water's Edge by Stephen Letherman Copyright © 2012 by Stephen Letherman. Excerpted by permission of National Geographic, a division of Random House, Inc.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.


FQ&A with Dr. Stephen Leatherman (also known as "Dr. Beach"), the author of National Geographic Field Guide to the Water's Edge: Beaches, Shorelines, and Riverbanks

What was the first beach that made you want to dedicate your life to them?
The first beach that I ever visited was Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. At the age of 5, I knew that I loved beaches. It was not until I began my dissertation research at the University of Virginia that I realized that I could make a career of being a beach scientist. (Science can be a day at the beach.)

What beach has been on your Top 10 lists the most times?
Beaches in Hawaii and Florida dominate my list because it is for swimming beaches, and these states have so many wonderful warm-water beaches.

Oprah once said you have one of the best jobs out there. What is your favorite part about being Dr. Beach?
I get to go to the beach often and visit so many great and beautiful beaches. Work and play are nearly the same when it comes to beaches.

The Field Guide to the Water's Edge focuses just on North American bodies of water. What can we learn from visiting international waters?
I have travelled widely worldwide, and certainly enjoy it. I have learned that the United States is blessed with some of the most beautiful (and clean) beaches and waterways in the world. The "floating river" in Bangkok is polluted beyond belief, and even some famous resort beaches in Asia have pollution problems that are not known by visitors. Here in the U.S., we take water quality seriously, and thank goodness for that.

From studying and visiting the world's beaches, how do you think they have been most affected by litter and pollution over the last few decades?
Even pristine beaches are impacted by litter that washes in from the ocean. There is a huge gyre of litter in both the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans, which is mostly floatable plastics. Cleaning up the oceans is a worldwide problem. Fortunately we have beach cleanups here in the US.

Have you gotten close to any dolphins, sharks, whales or other marine animals in your time on the beach? Where are the best places to spot these animals?
Yes, I was bumped in the leg while swimming offshore by a huge loggerhead sea turtle as recounted in my Yale University Press book. I have had dolphins try to steal the fish that I have caught (catch and release type fishing). They come right up next to the boat. I have seen a number of sharks, but declined an invitation to go cage diving with great white sharks when in South Australia a few years ago.

Have you encountered any extreme weather during a beach visit?
One of the primary areas of research in coastal storms so I have been at beaches on Cape Cod during hurricane-force winds and snow to make measurements of waves and beach changes. I have also experienced tropical storm and category 1 hurricane conditions when at beaches. Also I was within a hundred feet of a water spout in the Bahamas. It was so thrilling to see the water and fish pulled up tens of feet into the air that I almost forgot that it was dangerous.

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