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In some waterfront areas, driftwood is a major nuisance. However, the driftwood 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, that have been washed into the ocean, due to flooding, high winds, or other natural occurrences, or as the result of logging. There is also a subset of driftwood known as drift lumber. Drift lumber includes the remains of man-made wooden objects, such as, 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), and the 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 of driftwood.
The Vikings would cast wood into the sea before making landfall. And the location of the wood would be an indication as to where to build their mead halls. The wood used would found the high-seat pillars of the new hall.
Driftwood carried by Arctic rivers was the main, or sometimes only, source of wood for some Inuit and other Arctic populations living north of the tree line until they came into regular contact with European traders. Traditional Inuit boats such as the kayak were fashioned from driftwood frames covered in skins. Wood that is burned today in these regions mainly consists of the remains of condemned wooded structures. Driftwood is still used as kindling by some.
The "Old Man of the Lake" in Crater Lake, Oregon is a full-size tree that has been bobbing vertically in the lake for more than a century. Due to the cold water of the lake, the tree has been well preserved.
Alice Gray, the legendary "Diana of the Dunes", who fought to preserve the Indiana Dunes which contain quantities of driftwood named her college "Driftwood", and made all her furniture from driftwood.
Driftwood Sculptures are sculptures that are made of driftwood on beaches or mudflats:
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