by Victor Maze | November 24, 2016

Coquina: Toothy Treasures

Make no bones about it: Our beaches abound with fossils, from creatures that lived millions of years ago.

beach fossils sharks teeth

Above, clockwise: Fossilized horse tooth, tortoise shell fragments, shark teeth, and tapir bone; Photography by Jessie Preza

FOUND 2002

Shortly after moving to Ponte Vedra Beach in 2002, Jalene Bermudez noticed waves of beachcombers bent over, searching for something on the shore.

“They were finding shark teeth,” Bermudez recalls. Intrigued, she started searching as well, although she soon realized that identifying the tiny teeth among the shells and sand was difficult. So a friend taught her what to look for.

“There’s a science to finding them,” Bermudez says. “You have to train your eye, and it helps to have someone show you the shapes and sizes, what the sun does to the teeth, and how they reflect light.”

Bermudez’s passion flourished. Sometimes she found as many as 125 teeth in a prolonged search; other times, she spied different curiosities, which spurred her to contact the Florida Museum of Natural History.

There, she connected with Dr. Richard C. Hulbert Jr., the museum’s Vertebrate Paleontology Collections Manager.

He’s helped Bermudez identify shark teeth; fragments of teeth from prehistoric land mammals, such as mammoths, tapirs, and bison; and pieces of bones from whales, turtles, and a now-extinct giant armadillo.

“The fossils that people find on the beach often came from land animals during the Ice Age,” Hulbert says.

Today, the first few miles of ocean cover what once was land, where all sorts of animals roamed. These animals’ remains now lie in sedimentary beds offshore, washing up over time through erosion caused by rough surf, thunderstorms and dredging.

Although fossils decorate beaches and riverbeds throughout the state, certain communities have a higher concentration of them, Hulbert says. Venice, on the Gulf Coast, is a standout for shark teeth, which can be millions of years old. On the East Coast, the beaches south of Jacksonville, particularly at Ponte Vedra and St. Augustine, are also fossil hot spots.

Over the last 14 years, Bermudez has amassed a collection that includes more than 15,000 shark teeth, which she displays in glass bowls on her coffee table.

“I bring a few shark teeth with me everywhere I go and leave them as little gifts for people,” she says. “It’s incredible what the ocean has to offer.”