Myrtle Beach Sand vs. Sand from Around the World

By Marissa Polascak
February 8, 2018

Sand; we all love to play in it and we all hate to vacuum it out of our car. But most people don’t realize that sand is more complex than a gritty substance that we sink our toes into by the ocean.

Did you know that Myrtle Beach sand is different from sand from other places in the world? Sand may not appear to be very different when viewed with the naked eye, but when it’s put under a microscope, the differences are extremely apparent.

We recently teamed up with professors George Boneillo, Angelos Hannides, and Mandy Staughton from Coastal Carolina University to discuss sand on a more scientific level. The professors, who are experts in Marine Science, shared their personal samples of sand with us from Myrtle Beach, Costa Rica, Bermuda, Hawaii, and the Arabian Sea.

Check out these amazing photos of Myrtle Beach sand and sand from other places across the globe:

 

*all photos taken by George Boneillo

Myrtle Beach Sand

The team at CCU presented two different samples of Myrtle Beach sand. Both of these were taken downtown near the iconic Skywheel; however, one was retrieved near the dunes and the other was taken near the water.

The first sample (pictured left) was the one that was taken from the dunes. The sand by the dunes appears to be of a fine texture, but when it is looked at under a microscope one will see that the sample is dominantly comprised of Quartz. We can tell this due to the large amount of clear/glassy particles found in the sand. The Quartz is in the sand because the sand is deposited on our beaches as it erodes from the Appalachian Mountains. Because Quartz is a mineral that is found in the rocks in the Appalachian Mountains, and because it is resistant to weathering, it makes sense that there are large amounts of this mineral in Myrtle Beach sand. There are also small bits of shells in this sample, as well as browning due to a rusting effect from iron. This sample appears to be finer than the second sample because the wind by the dunes acts as a filter and sorts out the finer grains of sand.

The sample taken by the water (pictured right) appears much different, as it is coarser and contains bigger pieces of shells. This is due to the fact that there is higher energy where the waves break, causing larger particles of sand. The sample contains a mix of broken rocks as well as the shells and bodies of previously living organisms. Items that make up this sample of sand include but are not limited to Quartz, Mica, Bivalves/Clams, Magnetite, and more.

Sand from Costa Rica

Over 3,500 miles southwest of Myrtle Beach is the Central American country of Costa Rica that is famous for its sand, volcanoes, and tropical wildlife. The sand here is vastly different from the sand of Myrtle Beach due to differing environmental factors. Because there is a lot of volcanic activity here, the sand is rife with particles that are found in volcanic/igneous rocks. The Costa Rican sand also features tons of the magnetic mineral Magnetite. These two factors combined explain why the sand from Costa Rica is much darker than the sand from Myrtle Beach.

Sand from Bermuda

The sand from Bermuda appears to be from a different universe than the sand from Myrtle Beach. This beautiful sand gives off a pinkish-white hue that is aesthetically pleasing both to the naked eye and under a microscope. While the sand is fine, under a microscope it looks coarse due to the large amount of broken up shell material. The pink color is due to a red & pink microscopic organism called foraminifera that dies on the ocean floor, mixes up with bits of coral and shells, and gets washed up on shore, giving the sand a pink hue.

Sand from Hawaii

The sample from Hawaii looks like gems upon first glance under a microscope, but it is primarily made up of a green glassy mineral called Olivine. This mineral is prevalent in this sample due to salt breaking down volcanic/igneous rock in the area. The sand is much coarser than sand from Myrtle Beach, and sand from other parts of Hawaiian beaches may also feature lots of volcanic rock and pieces of shells, depending on where it is collected.

Sand from the Arabian Sea

Perhaps the most stunning sand sample provided by the team of professors at CCU is the sample from the Arabian Sea. The sample was taken from the Continental Shelf and was passed through a sieve to get rid of the small pieces of sand. What was left, which can be seen in the photo, were the bodies of organisms as well as the shells of dead marine life. The abundance of marine life in this sample is due to the fact that the river that deposits into this part of the sea provides tons of nutrients, causing marine life to thrive in this area.

Plastics in Sand

As you can see, sand is much more beautiful than you may have considered before. But one thing we never consider is the impact of plastics on sand and water quality all across the world. The team of professors at CCU collects many sand and water samples each year from different parts of the world and studies the impact of plastics on our coasts. The plastics they find come from everyday items ranging from plastic bottles to fibers that have worn off of clothing like yoga pants. These plastics can be found on a macro level, such as finding a pair of sunglasses on the beach, but can also be found in water samples as fibers. The plastics left on our beaches and in our water photodegrade in the sun, but that doesn’t mean they go away; instead, they break down into smaller things. Microscopic organisms eat these pieces of plastic, and eventually, the plastic makes its way up the food chain to humans as we consume seafood.

While sand acts as a filter to help try to sort these pieces of plastic out of our water, it is impossible to stop it completely. This is why it is important for us to take action and try to keep litter off of our beloved beaches to try to make less of a negative impact on our environment. Do your part and help keep the sand and water of Myrtle Beach and other beaches clean!