In some waterfront areas, driftwood is a major nuisance.
However, the it provides shelter and food for birds, fish and other aquatic species as it floats in the ocean. Gribbles, shipworms and bacteria decompose the wood and gradually turn it into nutrients that are reintroduced to the food web. Sometimes, the partially decomposed wood washes ashore, where it also shelters birds, plants, and other species. Driftwood can become the foundation for sand dunes.
Most driftwood is the remains of trees, in whole or part.
Trees washed into the ocean, due to flooding, high winds, or other natural occurrences, or as the result of logging form this wood wash back up on the beach. There is also a subset of driftwood known as drift lumber. Drift lumber includes the remains of man-made wooden objects.
- buildings and their contents washed into the sea during storms
- wooden objects discarded into the water from shore
- dropped dunnage or lost cargo from ships (jetsam)
- remains of shipwrecked wooden ships and boats (flotsam)
Erosion and wave action may make it difficult or impossible to determine the origin of a particular piece. Hunting Island’s driftwood forest is a great place to see driftwood.
The EPA includes it in its list of “Items You Should Never Burn in Your Appliance,” because it will “release toxic chemicals when burned”.