As I was walking the beach at Ponce Inlet, scanning the blowing sand for a new seashell to collect, a woman walked up to me.
She asked if the shrimping boat over in the river was stuck. Her hair was white and her face was brown. The brown of a person who spends lots of time on the beach. I told her the boat had been moving around, so I thought it was fine.
I explained that I had been all over the beach looking for seashells and had seen the boat come in the channel and anchor in the river. That is when she held out her hand and showed me a whole sand dollar which she had recently found.
I said oh, that’s awesome… or something like that. And she asked me if I wanted it! It surprised me that she didn’t want it, and I said that I would love to have it.
When I asked her if she was sure she didn’t want to keep it herself, she told me, “I live here”. She probably thought I was not a local and could take the sand dollar as a souvenir of my Florida vacation. This is not surprising since many people out walking the beach in “winter” are probably vacationers or part-timers (snow birds).
I told her that I live here too, but I never find whole sand dollars on the beach.
She said she finds them all the time. Really? Then she said something a little disturbing. “I dig them up.” She placed it in my hand, and turned and walked away – fast. I really had no time to ask questions.
She walked so fast that she was gone in mere seconds, which confirmed to me that she probably lives on the beach somewhere and spends a lot of time on it – walking. And apparently digging for sand dollars. Yikes, I think that is illegal. To dig one up means you are in their territory and if they are buried under the sand (out in the water) they are probably alive.
Maybe I am wrong, and she digs in sand near the dunes and finds them. I really don’t know.
I looked at this sand dollar and wondered if it was still alive and where it had come from. It was a cold day (by Florida standards) and the sand dollar was cold too. As I have mentioned, I never find whole sand dollars on the beaches I roam. Maybe I just miss them. Florida beaches have lots of visitors, and I would bet that most people would definitely collect a sand dollar.
I do know that some sand dollars, while alive, have a fuzzy covering and this one did not. I also had read that they are not really white when alive. I had no idea how long she had been carrying it with her, nor did I know where to put it if it was still living. My best guess was that it would be offshore under the sand. The water was cold, and the tide was going out, so there was no way I could have deposited it beneath the sand offshore.
So I kept it. I put it down in the sand to get these photos and because it was very windy that day the sand blew up around it immediately. The sand gave the photo a natural look.
After I got home I looked for articles about living sand dollars, and found this article which says that sand dollars cannot live for more than a few minutes out of the water.
Only collect dried sand dollars which will be up on the beach out of the water. They will be brittle and white, or light in color. Do not dig them up from under the water.