Beachcombing in the Pacific Northwest: Fossil Concretions

By Su Kirk

concretions found by washington beachcomber

I currently call Forks, Washington, my home. In addition to the Twilight tourist areas and John’s Beachcombing Museum, we are known for our nearby beautiful beaches, waterfalls, the Hoh Rainforest, glaciers, alpine meadows, and lakes. The Pacific Northwest is where I have been combing the beaches to find my treasures over the last 15 years. I have also beachcombed in Canada, Oregon, and California, but there is truly no place like the Pacific Northwest.

beachcomber from the pacific northwest

I have a college degree in art, and I tend to turn some of my finds into one form of art or another; I even make my living off of selling my sea glass jewelry. I am a real scavenger when it comes to collecting items brought in from the sea, but I do draw the line when it comes to toilet seats or extracting teeth from a dead sea lions. (Yes, people collect teeth from sea life.)

The main items that I collect include sea glass, pottery, agates, glass fishing floats, concretions, fossils, buoys, fishing nets, rope, driftwood, and plastic toys—and I’m still looking for that chest of buried treasure. I have dozens of antique and mason jars of all sizes filled with many of these items.

I hike these beaches near and far, all throughout the year, as early in the morning as possible, alone, or with friends and family. My family and friends have taken part in the fun and have been very supportive of my love of the beaches. Washington beaches vary: sand, rock, clay, sediment, cliffs, flat areas, easy terrain, and difficult terrain. I don’t hike the beaches often enough, but I do so on a weekly basis. Some of the beaches are part of the National Parks and Washington State Parks, and others are what I refer to as off the beaten path. The majority of these collectible items can be found worldwide, but each section of the world has their unique take on what is found/collected. The beach community is as diverse as what they find and everyone seems to have their own niche.

beach fossils from pacific northwest

A dear friend introduced me to the world of fossils a couple of years ago and that is when my love and interest of concretions started. I refer to concretions as “Wilma Flintstone Beads,” as they remind me of the large round shaped beads on Wilma’s necklace.

Finding them is not difficult, but I believe the reason is that they are still numerous is because they are a “new” love for many people in my area of the world. I think that the ones that are found broken open to expose what was originally on the inside are the most fascinating. I create magnets from the concretions, spraying them with clear acrylic coating to enhance their brilliance.

concretion fossils

What are concretions? The word “concretion” comes from the Latin words “con” meaning together and “crescere” meaning to grow up. They are round in shape and vary in size. They are formed when a cement-like material covers over another existing organic material. Like a geode, if you crack one open, you may find something amazing inside.

Some refer to them as fossils. They are not actually fossils but may have a fossil as their center. How long it takes for a concretion to form varies greatly. According to a June 2018 article, Hasty Concretion Formation, by Frank Sherwin, “Concretions are remarkable geological curiosities. They are spherical carbonate formations composed of mineral cement. Concretions are found near and far, from Western Kazakhstan to beaches in California. Usually the size of cannonballs, they form from water eroding a piece out of sedimentary rock. They almost look man-made. Many fossils of dead creatures have been found inside these strange deposits.”

Some of my favorite finds have included the fossils found within concretions. Some are just skeletal debris of soft bodied marine life and others are quite detailed in their skeletal shapes.

This article appeared in the Beachcombing Magazine July/August 2020 issue.

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