Put that thing back where it came from! Sand dollars inhabiting our waters are protected

July 24, 2020
By Olivia Cameron

BY OLIVIA CAMERON- Home décor in Southwest Florida often follows a seaside theme, from seashell upholstery to bleached sand dollars. These creatures, however, are not a shade of pure white in the wild, nor should they be removed and made into a knickknack.  
Local residents and tourists alike may be unaware that the law protects the lives of sand dollars. The Florida Department of Environmental Protection Rule 46-26 states it is illegal to remove these creatures from the ocean as well as other shellfish, sea stars and sea urchins. In 2002, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission banned the collection of live shells within the county.
FWC Division of Marine Fisheries Management employee Michael Rudell stated that there is an exception. 
“As long as the individual has a saltwater fishing license, they are allowed to harvest 100 pounds of sand dollars per person per day.” Rudell indicated that those who have a license could take the sand dollars home and put them in a tank or collect them. Otherwise, it is an illegal act for beachgoers to retrieve them from the water.
The City of Sanibel’s official website states that violators of the protection rule will be subject to a hefty fine of $500 dollars and 60 days in jail.
The FWC also made it clear that under the recreational seashell collection rule, seashells with live organisms are not to be sold without a commercial saltwater products license. 
Though small and camouflaged, sand dollars play an important role in a thriving ecosystem. They keep the populations of invertebrates at bay while serving as food for larger organisms, including the nine-armed sea star (Luidia senegalensis).
If you are a beachcomber who comes across a sand dollar on the ocean floor, there are ways to determine if it’s still alive. Sand dollars are typically dark gray, similar to the color of wet sand. They also have a spiny texture that looks like short hair. When these spines move, they are still living. The dead sand dollar’s spines will not move, nor will the critter be as dark.
If a sand dollar is alive, it will leave a yellow tint to your skin from a pigment it contains called echinochrome.
An ocean cannot thrive without the underdogs, or in this case the filter feeders. However, they can be collected as household treasures if they are no longer alive and benefiting the sea’s fragile ecosystem. 
For more information, visit myfwc.com.