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What You Need To Know About Sand Dollars

I have two types of days. The days I spend on the 30A beaches of Florida’s panhandle, and the days I spend wishing I was on a 30A beach. The white sand, placid waters and small town vibe make the stretch between Destin and Panama City the perfect summer vacation spot for my family.

The sand dollars we find on the beach and spy through the clear water are a source of endless fascination to my kids. The most common question when we come across a sand dollar: “Is it alive?”

At first, I didn’t have a reliable answer to that excited inquiry. So, I did some research.

Sand dollars are echinoderms, which means they are related to sea urchins. So, it’s no surprise that the state of a sand dollar’s small spines. If they are still intact and moving, the sand dollar is alive. Sand dollars lose their spines shortly after dying. Color is another key. If the sand dollar is still brownish, it may be alive. Needless to say, a bleached-out white dollar – one that looks like those in the shell shops – is dead.

A live sand dollar may also leave a residue on your hand called echinochrome, which can turn your skin yellow.

What should you do if you find a live sand dollar on the beach? Gently return it to the water asap. Sand dollars can’t live out of the water for more than a few minutes.

While these fascinating creatures aren’t protected by law, we should all be mindful that they play an important role in the gorgeous eco-system of the Gulf Coast.

So, the next time you find a dollar on the beach, toss it back into the sea. It’s an investment that offers a big return. Guaranteed.

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