What Not to Collect on Anna Maria Island: Live Sand Dollars

Illegally collected live Sand Dollars discarded on beach
Illegally collected live Sand Dollars discarded on beach

Sand dollars are not even beautiful when they are alive. Their whiteness comes only after the outer layer of skin and small spines has disappeared. It is the endoskeleton that is beautiful. I’m sure trying to clean a live sand dollar is not worth the smelly effort. It makes no sense to kill these creatures.

This member of the sea urchin family has the five sections of a sea urchin, but a flattened form. The very small spines allow it to move along the sandy bottom of the sea, and to burrow in. They also move food into the mouth. They eat mostly crustacean larvae, algae, diatoms and detritus.

A few years ago, scientists discovered something remarkable about sand dollars. They reproduce sexually, through external fertilization. However, their larvae have the ability to clone themselves and are likely to do this when threatened by a predator. The outcome is twice the number of larvae, with each one half the size. In some ways this is advantageous from a survival point of view.

Aside from general ethical reasons not to kill living creatures unnecessarily, there are laws in Manatee County, backed by the state of Florida, in relation to taking live shells. First of all, one must have a recreational salt water fishing license. And then only two of any particular species may be taken alive. There are some exceptions, such as oysters, several kinds of clams and coquinas, which may be taken in larger numbers.