Just because something looks like garbage, doesn’t mean it is garbage.
The Padre Island National Seashore in Texas posted a photo to Facebook of one of its “beach finds” Monday morning. Long yellow tendrils resembling a cord or wire are seen lying coiled in the sand.
If you think it looks like beach garbage, you’re not alone.
“Have you ever been out walking the beach, perhaps picking up trash and you come across something that looks like this? We often get asked what this is, and more often people assume that it’s trash,” the post said.
But it’s not trash at all, officials say. It’s a creature — sea whip coral, to be exact.
Officials say sea whip coral can be found from New Jersey down through the Gulf of Mexico and comes in a variety of colors, including yellow, purple, red and white.
The yellow and white varieties are most common on Padre Island beaches, the post said.
The whip is made of tiny polyps — which each have a mouth and eight tentacles — that grow on top of each other to form a stem, according to Encyclopedia Britannica. Spicules, described as needle-like formations of lime, support the structure of the whips.
Sea whip coral can grow to be up to 3 feet long. To feed, the polyps use their tentacles to brush plankton and other small particles into the coral’s body, according to experts at the Chesapeake Bay Program.
Several commenters were delighted to find out the cords were actually coral — and not trash.
“At first I thought it was masses of discarded fishing line, and I was pretty upset by that. And, then, I became informed. So cool!” one person wrote.
“Wow! (I’ve) seen it before and thought it was trash!” wrote another.
“I see this all the time down there and never knew what it was!”
Some commenters asked if the coral needs to be returned to the water, but officials explained that if it’s washed up on shore, it’s likely already dead.
“If you put it back in the water, it will just wash up again,” parks officials said, adding that leaving it where you find it “helps build up the dunes as it decomposes.”