Think each grain of sand is the same? These incredible photographs taken through a microscope show an array of different shapes and colours of sand from the Indian Ocean.

Macro-photographer Harold Taylor compared sand and marine fragments from The Maldives, Mauritius, Sri Lanka, Seychelles and La Reunion to reveal hidden beauty in each grain.

The destinations are famous for their white sandy beaches, but the project by travel company Kuoni proved each area’s sand actually has its own unique character, and the detail tells a lot about the local geology.

A single grain of sand from the Seychelles
A single grain of sand from the Seychelles (Harold Taylor)

Taylor explained: “First I sort through a sample using a stereo microscope and a very thin paint brush, the most time consuming part of the process. I use specialised Canon macro lenses (MPE-65) to reveal the rich mixture of colours but photographing at such high magnifications can be very challenging due to a very shallow focus and vibration problems.”

The method includes electronic flash lighting and a “stacking” focus technique which uses software to combine several images taken at different points of focus throughout the specimen which are then combined, with only the sharpest areas in focus used to form a single image file.

Kate Clover, co-author of the book Secrets of Sand, says you can tell a lot about the local geology and marine ecology when sand is viewed under a microscope.

Here she explains what each close up tells us.

1. La Reunion – Saint Lev

La Reunion sand close up
(Harold Taylor)

“On the island of  La Reunion, the fragments are mostly reef organisms from fragments of sea urchin spines, shell fragments and rosy pink grain of coralline algae,” she says.

La Reunion_Saint Lev_Removed grain close up
(Harold Taylor)

La Reunion_Saint Lev_Removed grain close up
(Harold Taylor)

2. Mauritius  - Trou aux Biches

Mauritius_Multi-Grains
(Harold Taylor)

“This urchin spine (below) includes the spine base where it attaches to the urchin body. Sea urchins use their spines to defend themselves, to capture prey and for movement.”

Mauritius Sea Urchin Spine single grain focus
(Harold Taylor)

 Mauritius_single grain focus
(Harold Taylor)

3. Sri Lanka – Bentota, south west coast

Sri Lanka grains various
(Harold Taylor)

“Despite their tiny size, the Sri Lanka beach grains show evidence of a rich offshore reef environment including caramel coloured shell fragments and spiral-shaped forams,” Clover says.

4. Seychelles - Anse Lazio, Praslin Island

Seychelles
(Harold Taylor)

“This beautiful lavender coloured fragment (below)  is likely a fragment of coralline algae, a stony kind of seaweed that accumulates in the sand when waves break it loose from the reef.”

Seychelles_lavender_fragment
(Harold Taylor)

Seychelles_single grain focus
(Harold Taylor)

5. Maldives – West Beach, Bandos Island

Maldives_Removed grains close up
(Harold Taylor)

Clover says: “This beautiful perforated round disk (below) is a foram, Marginopora, a tiny marine organism related to amoeba. When they die, their shells become part of the marine sediment.”

Maldives_Removed grains close up
(Harold Taylor)