This beach is incredible!

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By Kirsti Scott

this is a fake sea glass image

Fake sea glass on the beach (Viks_jin/Adobe Stock and generative AI).

You have likely heard about generative artificial intelligence (AI) by now, and you may have already seen the content created by it on social media, even if you weren’t aware that it was fake. 

Those beautiful images of perfectly smooth sea glass on a beach, glowing as if lit from within and coming in a rainbow of colors? And in a heart shape? So gorgeous that they’re almost too good to be true? Well, they are too good to be true. They are made by the robots behind generative AI programs like ChatGPT and Midjourney.

fake beach glass image made by chatgpt

Fake sea glass images (Kirsti Scott and Midjourney: 1) sea glass piles on sand with waves rounded pebbles glow photorealistic highly detailed, 2) stack of 5 pieces of sea glass rounded photorealistic highly detailed sunset lighting, and 3) sea glass on a beach, photorealistic, sunset lighting, highly detailed).

I was curious to see how hard it would be to make some images of beachcombing finds, and with free AI generator Midjourney I was able to make about 20 images in about 10 minutes, with no training. The copy in the captions lists the words used in the Midjourney “/imagine” prompt.

ai generated seashell photo

Fake pile of seashells (Kirsti Scott and Midjourney: piles of seashells on a beach, photorealistic, highly detailed).

While the results are pretty crude, the fact that I made them just by typing in a single command with some key words is pretty impressive…and scary. We already have enough trouble with identifying real vs. fake beach glass in the real world; now we’ll be faced with even more fake glass in images.

fake beach rocks made by chatgpt midjourney ai

Fake beach rocks and beach glass (Kirsti Scott and Midjourney: rocks on a beach, photorealistic, sunset lighting, waves, pebbles, agates highly detailed ).

What’s more, photographers who make a living out of photographing their beautiful beaches and beach finds are having their images harvested to feed the AI engines — and the resulting images are sold with no compensation for the original photographers. While software is being developed to help slow down the ability of the AI generators to pull from online images, it’s not clear they will be able to outpace the AI tech. And, as they get better and better, it will be harder and harder to distinguish real from fake images.

One of my favorite parts of publishing Beachcombing is looking at everyone’s gorgeous photos of their finds, seeing their beautiful beaches, learning the story behind the images, and getting to share them with readers in the magazine. Each piece someone brings home carries a little story with it, even the most humble find — memories of a day on the beach, the way a walk cleared your head, the moment you looked down and saw that little treasure. While AI-generated photos can be stunning, underneath they are just pixels. No life, no stories, no memories.

The genie is out of the bottle now and there’s no going back from the countless fake seashell, rock, fossil, and beach glass images we’ll be seeing in the future. But before you share that next image with no explanation of where it came from, first try to make sure it's not just too good to be true. (And, please, if you share the images here, please tell people they are not real!)

ai-generated sea glass heart

Fake sea glass heart (Kirsti Scott and Midjourney: sea glass heart on beach colorful sunset lighting photorealistic, highly detailed waves pebbles).

P.S. If you really want to get mad at — or feel sorry for — the AI robots, check out what DAN (a hack to ChatGPT that stands for "Do Anything Now" and produces unfiltered results) had to say about beachcombing:

what does dan chatgpt say about beachcombing

Comments generated by ChatGPT artificial intelligence.

I knew those robots weren’t as smart as everyone thought. What do you think?


For a world which already has trouble parsing real from fake, this is the final nail. As an artist, I find myself torn between excitement for images that we will see in the future and dread for the deathknell of an artist’s individuality. At this point, the artifice is evident to the trained eye…but in the future? I already have many friends falling for images “too good to be believed”…and yet they do. I’m going to miss the genuine and authentic world in which I grew up.

Bill March 07, 2023

Hi, Susan! I agree completely! The comments at the bottom came from AI, also, not someone who hates beachcombing. Beach time is very therapeutic, engaging, entertaining, fun, and surprising! And so are all the beautiful things people do with what they find on the beach: jewelry, art, crafts, displays, and more!

Kirsti Scott February 23, 2023

First off people need to use common sense about what is on the internet. Stop believing everything you see and read. Do your due diligence, know the source and ask questions. Use your brain.
NEXT – Wow, the negative narrative that individual wrote is so indicative of how angry people are today. I get that beach combing is not for everyone but why so negative. Walking on the beach saved my mental health during The Pandemic. It is the best physical and mental health therapy I have ever found. It costs nothing. It is not just about finding things it is also about caring for our beaches, picking up trash and rescue sea life in need. My choice will always be my beach and all it has to offer.

Susan February 23, 2023

This is sad to read. I feel like generations to come will no longer know the feeling of possessing something beautiful and being proud that it was accomplished on their own. I find such beauty and peace in beach combing. Technology seems to be taking that part away from us. History is important. It’s also important to continue and share experiences so those after us can treasure and value the same things we did.

Amanda February 16, 2023

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