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Decorative Living Playa Arrangement
and Teaching Aid

A Contemporary Adventure In Your Home1

( Inquiries )


The Cortez Chronicles Living Playa Arrangement is designed for use in your home as a reminder of the seashore and the delicate animals that live in the ocean and the intertidal zone. It is composed of sun and surf-polished shells and shell fragments commonly found high on the beach, and is therefore environmentally friendly. No live animals were killed or disturbed in the collection of these materials. It is the Cortez Chronicles’ hope that dissemination of these materials will stimulate an interest in the plight of the modern oceans and the need for all individuals to practice conservation in thought and in every activity when visiting the beach. The simple act of turning over a rock in a tide pool can kill hundreds of tiny creatures at once, and carried out by multiple visitors over a few years time can sentence entire coastlines to devastation and permanent death.

This Living Playa Kit may be used as a knickknack or counter display, or as a hands-on teaching aid to stimulate interest in the smaller living creatures of the ocean and intertidal zone, and to promote their conservation. We hope you and visitors to your home or classroom will derive many years of pleasure from the Cortez Chronicles Living Playa Arrangement.

Contents of Kit

Setting Up a Counter Display

Using as a Teaching Aid

Pour sand into a metal pie pan to facilitate careful isolation, inspection and identification of individual shell fragments and micro-shells3. Use pre-identified shells as an example in stimulating interest in the project, and encourage students to utilize a reference volume to verify the identity of shells and fragments in the list as well as other unlisted items found in the kit.

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Partial Description of Typical Shells and Shell Fragments4
(Contents will vary - each kit is unique)

Each kit comes with a list and picture documentation similar to the following, identifying a representative group of shells and shell fragments likely to be found in the kit5. Students are encouraged to utilize a good shell reference book similar to one of our suggested volumes to conduct their own research on the listed or pictured items and on undocumented shells and fragments found in the kit.

Ref. list #1-13 / Click through for magnification Sand and Micro-Shells / Click through for magnification Ref list #14-18 / Click through for magnification
  1.  Snowflake Marginella shell fragment
  2.  Miniature Cortez Moon shell (complete)
  3.  Opercula (snail trap doors)
  4.  Scallop shell fragment from Block Island, on the Atlantic seacoast
  5.  Common Periwinkle shell from Block Island, on the Atlantic seacoast
  6.  Mud fossil formed in a Tegula shell, which was subsequently worn away leaving the hardened mud
  7.  Miscellaneous polished shell fragments (Auger shell fragment lower left)
  8.  Shell fragment that has been grooved and drilled by other mollusks
  9.  Common Barnacle
10.  Reef fragment polished by the surf into a common rock
11.  Cockle shell with hinge still intact (Complete and very fragile)
12.  Well-worn tube fragment of a tubeworm
13.  One-Hole Rock6
14.  Oyster shell
15.  Murex fragment
16.  Netted Olive shell
17.  Cooper’s Turritella
18.  Stout Cardita

6A Word About the One-Hole Rock

The One-Hole Rock, a piece of hardened shale from an ancient mud flat, is a symbol of the ever-changing nature of the seas. According to legend, a one-hole rock will bring happiness and long life to the owner. On the beach can be found rocks of this kind with one, two, three, four, or even dozens of holes. Unfortunately, the power of the rock is inversely proportional to the number of holes it contains, so if you pick up your own, look at it carefully -- it is easy to miss pinholes and those plugged by particles of sand.

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The Cortez Chronicles
P.O. Box 47088
Phoenix, AZ   85068

Suggested Reference Volumes7

Seashells of North America: A Guide to Field Identification
A Golden Field Guide
by R. Tucker Abbott, Herbert S. Zim (Editor), George Sandstrom
Publisher: St. Martin's Press, 2001
ISBN: 1582381259
Paperback, 280 pages

National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Seashells
by Harald A. Rehder
Publisher: Knopf; Reprint edition, 1981
ISBN: 0394519132
Turtleback, 896 pages


1Not recommended for children under 5 years of age or anyone who might place items in mouth -- parts of this kit pose a serious choking hazard.

2Type of sand varies widely from location to location; and as such, that supplied in our kits will also vary widely. In general, micro-shells will be found only in sand of the finest particle size, because only in that kind of sand do they settle to the top without falling into the natural holes between larger particles. Therefore, a general rule of thumb is that the less interesting sand looks, the more likely it is to contain micro-shells.

3Use of a magnifying glass may be helpful in finding and identifying micro-shells.

4Kit contains at least 18 individual items and is intended for personal use or study. A larger group teaching kit is also available.

5Beaches vary widely from place to place, and so must our kit. The documentation is only representative of kit contents -- not everything in the list or pictures will be found in the kit, and not everything in the kit will be found in the documentation. This is not only necessary to keep costs from spiraling, but is valuable in stimulating students' interest in researching kit contents on their own. As we are only hobbiests, we cannot guarantee that pictures match the descriptions in the list; however, any identification errors pointed out to us will gladly be corrected in documentation provided with future kits. Please send corrections to our inquiry address.

7Reference also our Bibliography.




Copyright (c) 2004-2011
Larry K. Fox

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