Sea Beans

A variety of sea beans

Sea bean is the name given to a drift seed. That is a seed that can float and drift on the ocean surface driven by the currents and wind, to be washed ashore on a distant beach. The Sea bean website ( is a good resource, as is the book ‘Sea-Beans from the Tropics’ by Ed Perry IV and John V. Dennis. Some are not beans at all, but fruits that contain seeds.

In the UK there are local seeds that float and can drift a short distance down a river or along the coast. We find conkers (Horse Chestnut), hazelnuts, acorns and beech mast on the strandline, especially in autumn. Some seeds we find, like peach and avocado stones, may have been discarded by beach visitors. We also find sea kale seeds, which use the wind and sea to disperse. These seeds would only survive a short time in the salt water and still be viable. 

But then you come to the true sea beans, and it is these that have spectacular journeys. The most common ones that wash up on the northwest coastline of Europe are transatlantic travellers and will have started their journey in Tropical America or the Caribbean. They drop to the ground from a vine or bush, into a watercourse or when rain floods the ground, they float out to the ocean. They can float for up to 30 years (research still ongoing!) and drift on the Gulf Stream and North Atlantic Drift to eventually land on our beaches. To do this, they must have hard, impermeable coats and contain air pockets to enable them to float.

While commonly found in Florida, they are scarce on the west coast of Scotland, Ireland and Cornwall (maybe 1,000 to 5,000 recorded in each area from 1690 to 1990), and incredibly rare on the southeast of England (under 10 recorded from 1690 to 1990).  

Sea beans have been drifting across the Atlantic since time immemorial but plastic from the Americas also follows the same currents. Transatlantic plastic is a very important constituent of beach and plastic pollution as non-native species can hitch hike across the Atlantic Ocean and land on our shores, with the potential to cause an imbalance of our own fragile marine and coastal ecosystems.

We think seven sea beans have been found recently by volunteers on Strandliners surveys. Surveys are one of the best ways to find them as they involve close scrutiny of what has washed in. 

But we would like to know what you have found so that we can create a Strandliners database of sea bean discoveries on the southeast coastline. Could you tell us what you found, where and when you found it, with a photograph if possible.

We need information including, if possible…
What it is? (Does it need identifying?)
A photo
Location, where found (beach/riverbank, lower, strandline or back?)
Date (day or season and year)
Size (“diameter x height” or “width x height x depth”?)

Please email with any records, historic included, of these special treasures.


What’s that lurking just around the corner?

Originally posted October 2015.

If you go down to the beach today, it looks amazing.

This is Cliff End at Pett Level, East Sussex, the beach my parents first took me to many many years ago. Wildlife includes Northern fulmar (Fulmarus glacialis) at the eastern edge of their breeding distribution along the English Channel, Peregrine falcon (Falco peregrinus) spying from the cliff tops, the occasional common seal (Phoca vitulina) fishing in the shallows and of course many species of marine organisms in the pools, in the sand and mud, on the rocks, everywhere.

In front of the cliff there’s the submerged mixed forest that was flooded and flattened by rising sea levels around 5000 years ago. And nearby the wreck of the HMS Anne lies, run aground and set alight in the aftermath of the Battle of Beachy Head in 1690. What an amazing place to live.

On the surface it seems untouched, blissful, wildlife-full, historical.


Just around the headland is a sign of modern times.

Two berms have been constructed to protect the cliff which has been crumbling consistently into the sea.

Behind which a trash lagoon is building up.

How much trash is here? Too much.

Where has it come from? The sea has put it there, but much has originated from land based activities. And all from human activities.

What trash is there? Plastic single use items – bottles etc, remains of fishing equipment – nets, ropes, traps etc. Polystyrene pieces in their million from packaging, fishing boxes etc. Sewage related items – cotton bud sticks, tampon applicators, wet wipes etc that have been flushed! And much much more.

This trash lagoon is only accessible at low tide after a 30 minute walk (potentially in danger of being cut off), and so not too many people may know it is there, assuming their local beach is as clear as in the top photo.

One positive outcome is that it has been taken out of the sea and won’t be endangering marine animals. But what of the strandline animals living where the land meets the sea?

What can be done? This post is not the end.


18th August 2020
Strandliners has organised a project to clean up this bay in partnership with the Pett Level Independent Rescue Boat.

Volunteers and members from the Strandliners-trained Community Action Team are involved in their first post-COVID lockdown beach surveys and clean ups from August 27th 2020. They will visit seven times in small groups to bag up the rubbish and sort into polystyrene, plastic bottles etc by volume and weight.

For more information please see our Fairlight Berm page.