All posts by dawnfallik

I'm a reporter and an academic. The academic part still squeaks a little.

Water From Sand

By Dawn Fallik
Published on the front page, Philadelphia Inquirer
August 19, 2012

WILDWOOD CREST ­ It’s full-­on summertime hot as
Matt Long sets up his yellow buckets, pastry knives,
and brushes at the far end of the beach and gets to

What is it? Right now, it’s a blob of sand. A four­foot­
high wedding cake of brown.

Slowly, carefully, the shape of a hydrant emerges. Six
hours later, countless grains of hard, broken rock have
become a carved hand reaching from the Earth,
turning a spigot on one side of the hydrant while
“water” returns to the ground on the other.

“I had a deep, hidden­meaning explanation for this
sculpture,” says Long, 57, who lives in Staten Island,

“Something about the hand representing man’s struggle to put an end to all the mess, the stress, and the confusion represented by the steady flow from the spigot. All the while the flow from the spigot keeps man buried in subterranean slurry. The Spigot of Man’s Confusion!”

That’s some deep thinking out on the Jersey Shore.

Long owns a wood­restoration business in New York City. But for three years, he’s worked almost exclusively as a sand sculptor for hire. He’s finished 30 to 40 sculptures this year, his busiest ever, he says.

He’s flown to Anguilla to create a work for a wealthy couple’s wedding, carved dolphins in the Bahamas, and built a Manhattan skyline in a Bergen County, N.J., mall.

But when he’s on his own time, Long says, he goes to Wildwood Crest for its spectacularly sculptable sand.

“Fine­grain sand is excellent, but it’s not perfect, because you want an angular structure to the grains so they lock up together when you add water,” Long says.

A dash of silt or clay is also useful in holding things together, he adds, clenching a handful of the premium Cape May County stock. When he releases his fingers, there’s a beautiful, fist­shaped ball.

As one of seven “sand masters” on the Travel Channel series of the same name, Long is sometimes followed by cameras. (He’s waiting to see whether Season 3 is picked up.)
But on this sweltering August day, he’s just hanging out with friends, playing around with ideas inspired by everything from fire hydrants to background art on the TV show The Big Bang Theory.

Most of the time, Long is hired to create something specific ­ a lion lounging on rocks for the Staten Island Zoo, for example, or a tribute to New York firefighter Stephen Siller, whose death on 9/11 led to creation of a charity for the children of fallen first responders.

In October, he’ll be sand-carving at a pumpkin-chucking contest – the Last Fling Pumpkin Sling – in Harmony Township, N.J.

He doesn’t come cheap: If you want to set the stage for a wedding proposal on Staten Island, he can do a romantic castle for about $500. For more elaborate projects that involve travel, he’s been paid as much as $40,000.

His work is designed to disappear, whether in slow licks from the water or within seconds under teenage feet.

“I spent about five hours yesterday working on this abstract sculpture, and there were a lot of older kids around. As we were packing up, I heard a lot of whispering like, ‘Oh yeah, he’s going!’ and I knew it wasn’t long for the world,” Long says.

“If it’s a big event, or a competition, they usually hire guards overnight to keep the pieces safe.”

Long began sand-sculpting when he was a child during family trips to the Shore. His first real gig came in 2003, when someone who knew someone mentioned his skills to an event planner for Nike. They paid him $1,000 for two days’ work building a giant shoe crushing a sand castle.

“The craziest thing I ever did was a job at the W Hotel [in Manhattan], doing a sculpture for a book called 101 Alternative Uses for K-Y Jelly,” Long said. “I had to use a lot of K-Y in the sculpture itself, but it wasn’t dirty, it was pretty clean.”

Wherever he works, crowds form. They want to know what he’s making, how he started, what advice he has.

It’s all about the foundation, Long tells them. Pack the sand really tight at the bottom, have a design already in mind, and use a lot of patience and decent tools.

Long has developed his own kit (available online at that includes molds and shapers and brushes. But one of his best secrets is a straw, used to blow away unwanted bits. Just don’t inhale.

Even surrounded by people, sculpting is a solitary pursuit, the sound of the sea somehow working with the scrape, scrape of the knife. When he works, Long says, his mind is clear, peaceful.

“I’m still amazed at what we can do. Sand shouldn’t be vertical,” he says as the fingers of a left hand slowly emerge next to the sculpted hydrant. “It shouldn’t stand still. And then it does.”

Catch of the Day

EGG HARBOR CITY, N.J. ­ Frank Thomas could handle the squid. The mussels. The steamers. But cooking oysters was the biggest challenge.

“Two weeks ago, I lost my oyster ­shucking virginity; I’d never shucked an oyster before,” said Thomas, 62,
a tax and investment professor at Richard Stockton College. He used Internet videos to figure out how to
pry open the reluctant bivalves.

“At this point, I’ve done so many I could go pro,” he said.

This week, Thomas was picking up four pounds of fresh scallops by way of a new pilot program of Rutgers
University, the New Jersey Sea Grant Consortium, and New Jersey fishermen. The community­supported
fishery is a cooperative of about 10 fishing groups, from lobstermen to clam farmers.

Each picks a week over the 11­week program to deliver a portion of the catch to customers who have
signed up. Right now, it’s a small trial, with about 30 members who show up every other week with
coolers and ice packs to collect their share.

The goal, said Gef Flimlin, an extension agent in commercial fisheries and aquaculture at the Rutgers
Cooperative Extension in Toms River, is to get the word out that New Jersey is a good local source of fish
as well as fruit and vegetables. So far, members say, it seems to be working.

“One of the nice things about this program is that we’re trying things we’ve never tried before,” said
Thomas, who is also a member of the farm share program.

This is the first fish cooperative in New Jersey, Flimlin said. Most community­supported agriculture
programs (CSAs) are based on farms. In a typical program, people pay for a share of the farm’s bounty,
receiving a weekly box from spring to fall. The contents change with the season and harvest.

Companies in the program get the word out about their products as well as a financial deal. Fishermen
generally sell directly to stores and restaurants, which charge customers a large markup. The community
program cuts out the middleman.

“The fishermen, in some cases, will make more money, because we split the cost between the dock price
and the retail price,” Flimlin said. “For example, with clams, they will typically get 16 or 17 cents per clam for a littleneck clam, but through the CSA, they are getting 25 cents per clam.”

Gef Flimlin, an extension agent with the Rutgers Cooperative Extension in Toms River, said
the extra earnings aren’t huge with 30 customers, he said, but if more people sign up it could make a big difference.

The customers came from the Sea Salt CSA, a three-­year-­old program with 75 members based out of B &
B Farms in Galloway, Atlantic County. Flimlin approached Jennifer Lamonaca, who started the Sea Salt
program after working on the farm owned by her husband’s uncle, Art Brown, a former New Jersey
agriculture secretary. Lamonaca, who spent a decade as a marine biologist before switching to farming,
said that when she heard Flimlin was looking to incorporate a fish share, it sounded like a good fit.

“We notified our CSA members back in February, and we started small with 30 seafood members,”
Lamonaca said. “But I could have sold more.”

George Mathis, owner of the Mathis Clam Farm in Egg Harbor City, said he liked the concept of marketing
directly to local consumers.

“The whole shellfish business in Jersey is infested by out­of­state imports that come in at a lower price but
aren’t as fresh,” Mathis said. “The clams these customers are getting are six hours out of the water.”

Taking part in the program is easy, Mathis said. When he knows his week is coming up, he portions out a
share of that morning’s catch for members. Flimlin picks it up and delivers it, along with materials about
the catch and cooking suggestions.

Mathis said he would like to see the program expanded to a year­round venture, because his company
harvests clams all 52 weeks. Two community programs in New Hampshire and Maine deliver through the
winter, Flimlin said.

That would be fine with Jackie Sullivan, 26, of Galloway Township. She and her husband, Mark, both
marine science professors at Stockton, love seafood. Last Saturday, she bought extra scallops, paying $25
for two pounds, with 10 to 12 buttery blobs per pound. She lightly sautéed them in olive oil and lime juice
and served them with a tropical salsa of pineapple, mango, and mandarin oranges.

So far, Sullivan said, she has had a good time coming up with ways to cook the various offerings.

“We did oysters Rockefeller . . . lots of butter, lots of garlic,” she said. “We first sautéed them in beer to pop them open and then put lots of cheese and spinach on it, and it was delicious.”

Scallops, Clams or Lobster?

Buttery and sweet and fabulous on the grill.

Farm CSAs are pretty common – you pay $$ to own a “share” of a farm and pick up a weekly box of asparagus, cabbage or whatever’s fresh that week.

In New Jersey, they’re taking that to the next step – a Fisheries CSA. A dozen fishing groups from lobstermen in Point Pleasant to the Provider ship in Barnegat Light, joined together to deliver fresh, local seafood.

They’re hoping it’ll turn into a year-round program. Sponsored by Rutgers and NJ Sea Grant, the pilot program has 30 members – would you be interested?

What’s your sea glass story?

I loved hearing the stories behind the sea glass we found on the beach. Sometimes it was special because of the memory and the people, and sometimes there was a great story behind the glass itself!
Did you know that a recent shipwreck in Lewes resulted in a ton of BLACK sea glass landing on Delaware’s beaches?
Check out the latest story at

A Collection of Sea Glass
A small sample of Richard LaMotte’s glass collection,

Sea glass becoming harder to find

CHESTERTOWN, Md. – Every week, Christeena Minopetros combs bays and beaches for sea glass, whether she’s in Florida, Greece, or her childhood home of Sea Bright, N.J.

This month, she was dipping her fingers in the waves off Long Beach Island, where she returns for a family vacation most every summer, hoping to find the greens and blues and maybe, possibly, hopefully, a sliver of red or orange.

“It’s such a mystery for me,” said Minopetros, who serves on the board of the North American Sea Glass Association, a national collectors group with more than 2,000 people on its mailing list. “Where does it come from, and how did it end up here?”

But the clues to that oceanic treasure hunt are becoming harder to find. Sea glass – those rounded, frosted shards that once held milk or medicine or seltzer – is disappearing.

“Between recycling and the use of plastic, there just isn’t a lot of glass anymore,” said Richard LaMotte, often referred to as the “Father of Sea Glass” since the 2004 publication of his book Pure Sea Glass: Discovering Nature’s Vanishing Gems.

The book includes not only tips for finding sea glass, but history, appraisal techniques, and a detailed color analysis. Yellow, for example, was primarily used for tableware, and one type was produced with 2 percent uranium dioxide, giving it a neon glow under ultraviolet light.

“A lot of people go out to look for it, and it’s still there, but there’s a lot less of it,” LaMotte said.

Sea glass is formed in a two-part process. First, the alkaline pH of the water strips off the surface gloss and corrodes the outer layers of each piece. Then the waves and sand act as a sandblaster, softening sharp edges and pitting the surface, said Richard Baldwin, a research chemist for NASA in Cleveland. He collects antique bottles and became interested through his collections in the corrosion process.

The softer and cheaper the glass – such as bottle glass, for example – the faster it corrodes and softens, Baldwin said. Still, it takes 20 to 30 years for the ocean to turn a cracked champagne bottle into a frosted, rounded piece of pure sea glass.

LaMotte said he visits his favorite glass spots about once a week now. As he spoke, his hands reached down to the sandy, stony ground at a beach behind a friend’s house across from Baltimore’s Inner Harbor. After an hour, he had collected a square from a 1960s Sprite bottle (with its two telltale bubbles at the bottom), a brown, comet-shaped piece from a 1947 beer bottle, and a tiny turquoise teardrop.

Because most sea glass comes from bottles, clear, brown, or green pieces wash up most often. But in Maryland, there were a couple triangles of lime, a dash of citron, and a tiny dot of cobalt blue, most likely from the Bromo Seltzer bottles that used to be produced across the bay.

Red, yellow, and orange are the rarest colors, along with black, which often glimmers dark green under a flashlight.

LaMotte began hunting for glass about two decades ago, when his wife, Nancy, wanted to incorporate sea glass into her jewelry. During the day, he is a vice president at his family’s water-treatment company in Chestertown, but on weekends, he wanders beaches and bays. He became interested in the history behind the bits and pieces and wanted to know more about the “frosting” caused by the saltwater corroding the glass surface.

There’s such a demand for the glass, both for jewelry and as collector’s pieces, that a black market has developed, LaMotte said. Instead of finding the glass organically, people will use a rock tumbler and various tricks to make glass appear old and pitted. Why? A good red or orange piece can bring hundreds of dollars.

“Over the last 10 years, [collecting sea glass] has kind of exploded,” he said. “People enjoy getting out in nature. They realize it’s vanishing; there’s not much left. And then there are the colors of it; there are so many of them . . . and it’s cool to see what Mother Nature does with a piece of glass.”

Terri Kirby Hathaway, the marine education specialist for the North Carolina Sea Grant Association, said much of today’s glass comes from past dumping of beer and soda bottles into the sea. There is a lot of sea glass in Boston Harbor, for example, because the islands in the harbor were used as a dump for years; as erosion occurred, the glass appeared.

But as people have become more environmentally aware, they have stopped dumping glass and started recycling. Also, the federal Ocean Dumping Ban Act of 1988 officially banned dumping waste into the oceans.

“I’ve lived on the coast for 28 years, and finding glass on a beach here is pretty rare now,” Hathaway said. “I might find one piece a week now. So now I like to look for toys, like those little Army men, or I found the monkeys from the Barrel Full of Monkeys game.”

True sea glass “snobs” take only pieces that are completely frosted and well rounded – no sharp edges for them. They’ll shove rejects back in the sand or toss them back into the sea for another few rounds of rough-and-tumble.

Some people prefer thicker glass, others older glass – defined by the bubbles that disappeared when glass production was automated in the 1920s.

LaMotte, Hathaway, and Minopetros all have their own special spots to find glass but say it takes time to train the eye to see it.

“I went to Sea Bright and found three good bags,” Minopetros said. “But sometimes, other people come with me, and they don’t see it.”

Bubbles usually indicate older glass. Use a flashlight to detect them.

To find sea glass, skip the main beaches. Check out grassy areas and among rocks, which are more likely to catch them. Bay sides are often better for finding glass than beach sides, as in Cape May. Check out the tide charts and go around low tide, but sometimes the high-tide line can be lucrative.

Sea Glass Fast Facts

Orange, red, turquoise, and yellow shards are the hardest to find. Rare colors come from tableware.

Green, brown, and white/clear are the most common colors. They come from mass-produced bottles made after the 1920s.