In August of 2018, My husband and I went on a family trip to Tybee Island, Georgia for my mother’s birthday. We stayed about 3 blocks from the beach, and every morning, we woke up before light and headed to the beach to watch the sunrise. It was beautiful, with colors of orange, pink and yellow that reflected off the water. We also noticed that when the sun came up, the tide was very low. So low, that all sorts of seashells and other ocean life would show themselves on the shore. With this life we saw multiples of sand dollars, some days, hundreds! Now this isn’t the first time that I’ve seen sand dollars before. I take a family trip to the Northern coast of California every few years and have seen a few on the beach of Santa Cruz there. This, however, was the first time that I have seen so many at once! Now if you’re from the South Eastern shore, you will know that they have a big heart for the survival of marine life. Places there focus on limiting plastic use, and instead, using cloth bags for their groceries and paper straws for their drinks. It was no surprise that they had signs posted on the beach that said “No live shelling”. This was the first time that it was brought to my attention how greedy we get as Americans. Tybee Island is a tourist heaven, and thousands of people go there each year to experience the warm water, beautiful shell life that you cannot find up north and water sports. Savannah, Georgia is also a quick 20 minute drive away and the food there is amazing, might I add!
In disbelief, every day I watched people collecting live sand dollars and taking them home in buckets and bags, letting them sit out in the hot Georgia sun for them to die. I watched a lady pick up several on the beach, look to see if anyone was watching, then put them in her pockets. This sight broke my heart. How could we as humans be so disrespectful and selfish to kill one of God’s creatures for no reason at all, but to take them home to look at them and hang them up on our Christmas trees? I watched one guy diving underwater intentionally to pull them up from the sand and put them in a large pile next to his beach chair. I got up the urge to ask him what he thought he was doing, and he said “They’re sand dollars. Would you like one?”. This infuriated me. I walked over to the marine life conservation office where the beach police were and asked if there was something that we could do to stop it. They said, unfortunately, they tell beachgoers every year not to pick them up, that it contributes to the falling numbers of sand dollars every year and that they will eventually become extinct which will disturb the ecosystem. “They will continue to do it, no matter how many signs we put up or classes that we hold or consequences we bring to their attention. They just don’t understand.” The officer continued to tell me of a case that happened a few months back of a woman who found 6 baby sea turtles and brought them back to her hotel room with the intention of keeping them as pets. Once the lady realized she bit off more than she could chew, she put them in a bag and threw them in the hotel dumpster where the officers found them a week later. By then of course it was too late.
Now if you’re anything like me (you follow my page, so we must have at least one thing in common), you love the beach. The sun on your skin, the warm wind that blows, sand between your toes and the beautiful blue. I get it. Maybe, like me, you even like collecting seashells to admire their beauty. Whatever floats your boat, please, please, don’t keep live shells. There will be plenty to take home that are non-living. I find more joy in finding something so rare and beautiful when it has washed up on shore for me to find, after it’s precious time on earth. If you aren’t sure or don’t know the difference, please educate yourselves. I found several organisms that were living that I was able to take back to the sea and sand so that they can continue on living and one day, a beautiful soul will be able to enjoy their beauty once they have passed from their home.
This was the start of a movement for me. This is why I am so passionate about conservation and reuse and recycle. This is why I support companies like sand cloud and others like them, to spread the word. And while you will still see the ignorant ones carrying away live shells and other creatures to keep for themselves, you will at least have the heart to know that you can make a difference.
Above, I have shared some pictures with you to show the difference between the living and non-living so that you will have this for your knowledge. I also have provided a link to Tybee Island’s beachcombing site in case you are planning an upcoming visit. This is also great information for shell collectors anywhere to know the difference of what is good to keep and not okay to keep.
I hope this has been helpful to all of you. Keep loving our oceans and keep them beautiful!
Your Singing Mermaid