Living Sand Dollar Found at Low Tide

We finally went boating and luckily it was low tide along the river. This is the best time to search the sand bars for sea life. Today, I found a living sand dollar! I believe this is the first time I have ever come across such a thing.

Keyhole sand dollar alive
Live sand dollar!

Because I can’t see in the bright sun when taking my iPhone photos, I take a few hoping that some will be okay. This sand dollar was such a wonderful sight. The color was a purple brown. The bottom had little bristles I could feel. I only held it for a few seconds to get the pictures, then put him back in the same spot.

Later, after I walked away to the deeper water, I saw this sand dollar slowly moving closer to the river. The water was flowing in that direction so maybe he was riding the current. That is good, because if he was beached, he would dry up and die in the hot August sun.

Former Finds in This Area

This Three Sisters area has been especially good for unique sea life sightings – for me. Low tide is the best time to search the area and it helps if the water is warm and fairly clear.

You can see the difference in my photos of the same area at the islands when the tides change.

We visited Three Sisters a few weeks before this and I could barely walk around because there were many stingrays. The water was at just about high tide, which means the sand is covered, but the water is still shallow enough to walk around. I know all about shuffling my feet while walking in the sand here, but sometimes these stingrays are not easily scared off! That was a good day to stay on the boat.

In years past I have found the giant red hermit crab – 2017 (the only one I’ve ever seen), a big living horse conch nearly buried in mud, a big sea star, a tiny sea star, and a friend found an empty, huge horse conch seashell.

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The Sand Dollar Lady and Her Gift

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.

sand dollar on beachI 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.

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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.

In Closing….

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.

Christmas and The Legend of the Sand Dollar

The Legend of the Sand Dollar poem and the Christmas season both have Jesus in common. There are a few varieties of sand dollar and the legend seems to have been written about one in particular – the Keyhole sand dollar.

sand dollar on beach
Keyhole sand dollar on the beach

The Keyhole sand dollar has 5 holes in it where the anonymous author of the poem writes: “.. four nail holes and a fifth one made by a Roman’s spear”, speaking of the death of Jesus on the Cross.

The sea cookie, sea biscuit and arrowhead don’t have all those holes. But they do contain the “doves” inside which fits with this part of the poem: “Now break the center open and here you will release the five white doves awaiting to spread good will and peace.”

sand dollar and dove
Sea Cookie with “Dove”

The five doves are the jaws, or teeth, part of the sand dollar, but they actually do look a lot like doves.

The Legend also describes a “star” on one side and a Christmas poinsettia on the other. The star shape is easy to find on the top of all sand dollars and I don’t have a picture of the underside of the Keyhole type, but here you can see the bottom of my Arrowhead.

bottom of sand dollar
Bottom of the Arrowhead Sand Dollar
White Sand Dollars
Arrowhead, Sea Biscuit and Sea Cookie

It’s not difficult to find the “Legend of the Sand Dollar” online, but they are not all the same. This one at Poetry Place is worded quite differently than the one at Quality Shells, but the message is still the same – a reminder of the birth (star) and death (holes) of Jesus and the doves that will fly off to spread Peace.

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