Beachcomber Hester Loeff: “Wow, he has long claws, look at those pretty colors.”

Beachcomber Hester Loeff: "Wow, he has long claws, look at those pretty colors."

Clearly, Hester Love doesn’t think much of tidying expert Marie Kondo. Her studies are full of suffocation, she sees things standing, lying and hanging everywhere. Shells. Dried tubefish (a type of long seahorse). Stuffed beach birds. Chests of drawers filled with shells, arranged by type and shape. Shark teeth, ray eggs, seal jaws.

A huge molar, from a woolly mammoth, was found on the artificial beach at Masvlakti II. “I still get goosebumps when I think about that moment.” All kinds of cabinets with collections, skulls, and stuffed and dried marine animals. Feathers of birds, fish and starfish. Rarities, indeed. You can also call it Wunderkammer. Love, with gray hair and cheerful eyes, tried to furnish this space in her home in Zierecze in the atmosphere of Charles Darwin’s office. Dark wood, jars with animals in strong water, a microscope on the desk.

Love trained as an optometrist, but changed course eight years ago. She’s gone beachcombing, walking around, looking for private beach washes. Several times a week. They organize beach excursions. He is Curator of the Royal Zeeuwsch Society of Science for the Naturalia Collection. She has also recently started working as a “corresponding researcher” for the Naturalis Center for Biodiversity research institute, where she collects specimens of foraminifera, for example: single-celled marine animals with a calcareous skeleton, which can only be clearly seen under a microscope.

“They’ve been around since the Cambrian period, half a billion years ago,” she says. “And then look at the amazing shapes they have.” It shows enlarged images of different colors and shapes, from cups to spirals to stars. You can also find them on the beach, she says, if you look hard enough, although you have to put them under a microscope to see them properly. “If you can marvel at So, it means that you actually have a much greater connection with nature. More respect, I guess too.”

How do you go from being an optometrist to being a beach bum? “What I do now is also make people look different.” She uses her finds with natural materials she purchases to create cabinets of curiosities, which she also sells. “Yes, it’s just a hobby that got out of control,” she says during the tour. “My husband and children no longer want to go to the beach with me because I take everything with me.”

Really strange

I collected the discoveries in this room over a period of no more than eight years. “I really like the way the 18th and 19th centuries looked at things. That was the time of the Enlightenment, when people started to look at nature with real curiosity and thus made all kinds of new discoveries.

According to her, the essence of that outlook is the ability to question. “This is the way to perceive the world through feeling and curiosity.” This is also how you try to look at the North Sea. “Often we only look at what we can get from the sea, what we can gain from it, and what we can gain from it.” She wants to do something in return.

Since this year, Love has been giving so-called sea lessons in primary schools. Then, for example, the children look at the sand through a magnifying glass to see what shells and sea urchins are in it. And go to the beach with school lessons. What kind of birds do you see? What can you find among the shells? “The kids love to scoop nets into the water. Then they see right away: Everything is alive here.

We often only look at what we can gain from the sea

Hester Love com. beachcomber

At her request, she immediately gave the reporter a lesson at sea. On the wide beach at Burgh-Haamstede, with a view of the Delta Works, a fifteen-minute drive from her home. It’s one of her favorite free-range beaches, because there are so many different things. And also from different layers of sand, which are regularly mixed by sand reclamation operations in the area, for example. You can sometimes find very old shells and fossils on this beach. “You can often recognize shells that were in those ancient sand layers by the bluish color.”

She’s particularly a fan of spiral staircases: horns with a sort of ceramic wire that seems to run over them. Together we also find another horn, clearly a fossil as it is rather dull in colour, of a species no longer found here. “It’s millions of years old. It gives you a good idea of ​​what marine life looked like at that time.”

While walking, there are also a surprising number of brown shields, those white shields, often about fifteen centimeters in size, which people often attach to birds. In the spring, it is the mating season for the sepia, a squid-like species, after which the males die en masse. In the following months, you’ll find squid armor on the beach, she says. A little further away, a jellyfish has just been washed away. “There, he has long claws, look at those beautiful colors.”

Photo by Merlin Daleman

Black ivory

And then, just before we got off the beach, was the highlight. Love picks something out of the sand near the breakwaters. Show it. Pride. A shiny, slightly curved black piece that you could mistake for washed wood. But upon closer examination, it becomes clear that they are more difficult and different in texture and shape. “I think ivory!” She’s not sure, she’ll have to look at it under a microscope at home. “You see a bit of a line pattern here. In fact, all fanged chest bearers have that.” Suddenly excited: “I think it’s a mammoth. Or the forest elephant that also happened here. No, think southern mammoth. It was really freakishly large, the ancestor of the woolly mammoth. The height of males at the withers can reach 4.5 metres.

At home, she rinses the canine and takes pictures of it. She asked her network of online researchers about the piece of ivory, and exactly what animal did it come from? The initial conclusion comes the same day via email thanks to a giant paleontologist friend. Probably a southern mammoth. Goes straight to the group.

the pictures: Merlin Daleman
Infographics: Indra Bangaru

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