Grace Pavoni, 6, of Bucks County, P.a., found shells and a mermaid's purse during a beachcombing tour in Townsends Inlet in 2019.

By Maddy Vitale

Grace Pavoni, 6, had her heart set on finding one small treasure in the sands at Townsends Inlet Thursday morning.

She searched and searched. She found razor shells, shimmering jingle shells and a piece of sea glass.

But after about 20 minutes, she still couldn’t locate what she set out for during a tour hosted by Sea Isle City’s Beachcombing Program, where tour guides take children and adults on an educational journey along the inlet and the beach two days a week through the summer.

“Look! I found one!” exclaimed Grace, of Bucks County P.a. “It’s a mermaid’s purse.”

She was referring to a leathery egg case usually for skates.

Grace dropped it in her bucket and continued her treasure hunt, along with her little brother Matthew, 3, and mom Leigh Pavoni.

“We live in Sea Isle for the summers. We come to the beachcombing tours every year,” Leigh Pavoni said. “The kids love it. We were on a mission today to find a mermaid’s purse and Grace found one. Now we are looking for sand dollars.”

Siblings Grace, 6, and Matthew, 3, Pavoni, of Bucks County, P.a., check out some marine life and shells.

The Thursday tours are held at Townsends Inlet Waterfront Park at 94th Street and Tuesday tours take place at 29th Street and the Promenade. Both are from 10 a.m. to 11 a.m. For just a $1 donation, beachcombers learn all about seashells, marine life, the ocean, the bays, the beaches and more from the environmental experts.

Each child receives a plastic bucket for shell-collecting, a coloring book decorated with marine life and a beachcomber bracelet.

On Thursday about 50 children and their families set out on their tours. There were three tour guides who answered all sorts of questions and explained some interesting and exciting information about marine life, the dunes, and the ocean.

Kids found all types of shells.

Tour Guide Margie Quinlan said she tries to make each of her beachcombing tours fun, interactive and educational.

“I love it,” she said. “I try to be a little funny too sometimes.”

Quinlan playfully asked her group questions.

Tour Guide Margie Quinlan explains, using a model of a diamond back terrapin, a little bit about them.

“Do you know why we call these shells jingle shells?” she asked holding up black iridescent shells.

“Because they make jingle sounds,” one child said.

“That’s right. And they shimmer and look really nice in a jar,” Quinlan said.

“What makes the waves?” she asked.

“That’s right. The moon and the stars,” Quinlan replied to the correct response.

She also gave a lesson in diamond back terrapins and explained how it is important that a terrapin continues in the direction they are heading.

Quinlan also talked about oyster shells.

“They say there are no two oyster shells that are alike,” she said.

When Quinlan was finished, the children grabbed their buckets and headed to the water’s edge.

Greg Schoenleber, 9, of Bucks County, Pa., holds up a mussel.

Within minutes, Gregory Schoenleber, 9, of Bucks County, P.a., ran up to Quinlan and said, “Look what I found!”

It was a whole mussel.

“Can I eat it?” Gregory asked with a laugh.

“No. You wouldn’t want to eat that,” Quinlan said. “That is an interesting find. You don’t usually find whole mussels.”

This summer is the 31st year that Sea Isle has held the beachcombing tours. An estimated 50,000 beachcombers have participated in the educational excursions.

Shannon Shepperd sees what her daughter Sienna, 4, of Bucks County, Pa., found in the sand.

Abby Powell, who co-chairs the beachcombing program with Marianne Snyder, said so far this season, the attendance has been fantastic.

“Our attendance is well ahead of last year’s attendance,” Powell said. “The weather is a big factor and it has been great with no bugs.”

For more information about Sea Isle City’s beachcombing tours, go to and click on the “Weekly Summer Events” link.

Nora McQueen, 8, of Warrington Pa., listens to the ocean.
Mark Weiss, 8, of Pennsylvania, and grandparents Keith and Pam Weiss check out his finds.
The beachcombing tours are well attended, organizers say.
Grace, 6, and Matthew, 3, Pavoni, of Bucks County, P.a., enjoy the tour.