Fort Bragg, CA – If you were to travel along the southern edge of California’s MacKerricher State Park, you might stumble upon a small beach near a small but scenic cliffside.
At first glance, it may look like any other – pretty, certainly – but otherwise not particularly interesting. But walk closer to the beach's edge, sand still wet from the earlier tide, and you’ll start to see them: small, worn stones in every shade imaginable.
But these are not ordinary stones washed up on the beach. This is Glass Beach, and these small stones are (as you have probably guessed) shards of glass, worn and tumbled against the sea floor until they took on the characteristic shapes and colors seen today.
It was a process that took several decades, as this long stretch of beach was once one of a few separate dumping grounds for man’s trash. Bottles, plates, common waste, and even cars were tossed over the cliffsides for a period stretching from 1906 to 1967.
After 1967, greater environmental awareness led to the closure of these dumping sights and an attempt to clean up the place. Any non-biodegradable material big enough to haul away (such as the rusted bits of metal and old cars left to rot on the beaches) was removed. And, eventually, all that remained was the glass. Over time, nature turned these fragments of trash into sought-after treasures.
Glass Beach is far from the only beach glass site in the world, but it is the most concentrated – and it’s in decline. Every year, thousands of tourists travel to Glass Beach, and many take what they perceive as a harmless handful of beach glass shards. Years of this phenomenon have gradually depleted the beach glass on California’s coast, and as these are not natural formations, nature will not ever replace them.
But there are also other, more important reasons to be concerned. Endangered species such as Menzies’ wallflower have founded vital strongholds in the area, and these coastal ecosystems are notoriously vulnerable to human disturbances.
Thus, Glass Beach is itself a bit of a dilemma for MacKerricher Park, as both a source of tourism and income and also a point of vulnerability for its fragile coastal ecosystem.