Educator warns beachgoers against removing sand dollars from homes

Reporter: Stephanie Byrne Writer: Jack Lowenstein
Published: Updated:
Sand dollar. Credit: WINK News.

There are concerns for marine life in Southwest Florida. Beachgoers are concerned some are taking a sea creature species out of its habitat and causing them to die. A scientist we spoke to says removing these creatures from their homes could be detrimental to the local ecosystem.

We received a tip Thursday that some beachgoers are picking up sand dollars near the shore, killing them.

While beach combers are encouraged to collect shells, they’re also warned not to bring home living creatures. And, with a keen eye, sand dollars can be spotted near the beach.

“They look like a big, round disk with a pattern on the top of it, very smooth,” beachgoer Tina Metzger said. “They’re beautiful. They look like the sand, the white sand.”

While it’s unlikely sea creatures use sand dollars as currency, some beachgoers treat them like treasure.

“If you’re on the beach and you pick one up, and it’s white or even a light gray, and it’s doesn’t have any spikes or any spiny skin on it, it’s dead,” said Kealy McNeal, a marine educator at Sanibel Sea School.

McNeal says those are good save to take and add to a shell collection.

Living sand dollars are a bit different on sight and feel and shouldn’t be taken home.

“Pick it up, and it has brown, gray, velvety skin,” McNeal said. “It’s still alive, and, if you look closer, you’re going to see some bristles and some spiky little spines moving around.”

That’s when a sand dollar needs to be returned to the water, and it’s against the law to remove a living sand dollar from its home.

MORE: Sanibel Shelling Regulations

Worse, taking a living sand dollar and killing it could disrupt the local ecosystem. McNeal says, if a living sand dollar is picked up, it will essentially hold its breath and soon die if not returned home.

Sanibel Sea School will officially become the Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation’s education department Jan. 1. It will continue to educate the public about the value everything that encompasses the ocean.

“The sand dollar gives the crab a home, and it’s protected,” McNeal said.

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