Is It OK to Take Sand Dollars Off the Beach?

Most of us think of sand dollars as round, flat seashells, but that's completely inaccurate. In fact, they aren't shells at all. During their average lifespan of about 10 years, a sand dollar is actually a living organism. It's actually a cousin of sorts to other echinoderms like sea cucumbers, sea stars (also known as starfish) and sea urchins. They have no brain, just a simple nerve ring. While we're used to living things sporting legs, wings or some other obvious transportation method, sand dollars have a far more subtle way of getting around — a water vascular system. This system not only helps them move, but it's responsible for pumping filtered seawater so that they can eat. So, with all the complexity of sand dollar makeup and life in mind, is it all right to scoop one up from the beach and take it home as a treasured souvenir? If one is found and simply must be kept, be 100% sure that it's no longer a living being. Hold the sand dollar and watch the tiny spines. If they move, it's alive. The spines will fall off quickly after the animal dies. You can also check the color: live sand dollars are grey, brown or purplish; after death, they turn white. Finally, hold a sand dollar in your hand for a minute. If it leaves a yellow spot behind, it’s alive. In most states taking a live sand dollar is illegal, but laws vary about collecting a dead one, so check for signs at the beach or ask an employee.