Beachgoers often comb the shores searching for Sand Dollars, nature’s version of buried treasure. These flattened sea urchins that populate our oceans make for fun collectibles for vacationers and beach fans alike. However, if you’ve ever walked the beach in search of them, you know they’re a bit hard to find.
A trip to Sand Dollar Island, a quick ferry ride away from Morehead City and Shackleford Banks, might change all of that. Sand Dollar Island, technically a large sand bar accessible at low tide, is home to a more concentrated population of sand dollars than anywhere else on the North Carolina coast.
Visitors to the island can walk away with a dozen or more on a good visit. You may have to look closely as they burrow down in the sand when they are alive, but they’re there. Visitors are allowed to take the dead, sun-bleached sand dollars, but they ask that people leave the live ones alone!
You can differentiate a live sand dollar from a dead one primarily by its color. Live sand dollars are darker in color, typically red, purple, blue, or brown colored. They are also covered by a thin, velvety skin and numerous short spines called Cilla, which helps the urchins to move. The perforations that make the star-shaped pattern are pores, that allow seawater to pass through. And on the opposite side of the sand dollar are grooves that allow food to be moved toward the mouth opening in the center.
Sand Dollar Island is a perfect place to take children for a day trip, not only to collect shells but also to enjoy the calm surf and the nearly empty beach. Just remember to take plenty of sunscreen since there are no shelters or shade.
Folklore of the Sand Dollar
A myriad of stories have been made up by beachcombers who encounter sand dollars along the shoreline. One legend states that the dollars are said to represent coins used and lost by mermaids or even the underwater city of Atlantis.
Christianity also has several claims on the sand dollar, much to do with the symbolism in the radial pattern on the face of the sand dollar. Stories often feature coinciding images of the crucifixion wounds of Christ, the Star of Bethlehem, an Easter lily, or doves.
Video: Ten Facts About Sand Dollars
Images from Morehead City Ferry Service Facebook Page