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Sand dollars are one of the most exciting sea creatures in the ocean. Often mistaken for a type of shell due to its unique shape, these creatures are definitely alive, and you might have found them on the beaches as you travel the world. But can you find them in Hawaii?
You can find sand dollars in Hawaii, but they’re unlikely to be alive. Live sand dollars enjoy thick, muddy sand that’s quite unlike the beautiful reefs surrounding Hawaii. However, you can still pick up one that has been washed to shore by storms or dropped by native birds.
The rest of this article will go over the best places to find sand dollars in Hawaii and everything you need to know before you take one home with you. So, let’s get started!
Washing Up on Hawaiian Shores
The sand dollars you find on the beach in Hawaii may seem like lifeless shells, but they’re actually the decomposed skeleton of the sea creature they once carried. Live sand dollars enjoy the thick, muddy sand that resides at the bottom of the sea and on some shorelines, but their skeletons collect in the water over time.
Sand dollar skeletons will wash up on beaches because storms and tidal disturbances push the decomposed creatures that would have just settled to the bottom of the ocean toward the shore. The shell-like item you find on the beach is, therefore, the remains of a creature that died long ago. They’re often very fragile and have traveled a long way to end up on the beach.
This is why it’s so rare to find a sand dollar on the beach intact. The impact of weather and tide on the ocean means that the sand dollar has probably taken an enormous battering before it rests peacefully on the shores of Hawaii. For this reason, a perfect, undamaged sand dollar is a real rarity and an ideal addition to a beach collectors portfolio.
Where They Come From
There are many types of sand dollars, most of which reside in the North Atlantic and North Pacific oceans around North America and Asia. It’s highly unlikely that you’ll find sand dollars in Europe or on the West coast of Africa, but at least one of the many species of sand dollars can be found just about anywhere else in the world.
If you live in the United States, you can find sand dollars in most coastal regions.
- The keyhole sand dollar can be located along the South East coast of the US, near Florida and Georgia.
- In contrast, the eccentric sand dollar can be found all the way up the West coast, from California up to Canada.
The only place you won’t find them are the beaches of New England, which reside a little too far away from their preferred habitat.
In these areas, sand dollar skeletons are more commonly found on the shore due to their live bodies being washed up and drying out in the sun. This makes sand dollars a very common occurrence on most of America’s beaches. You’re far more likely to find one here than in Hawaii, and you’ll be causing a lesser impact on the natural environment collecting here.
Common places to find other species of sand dollar include:
- The North coast of Australia
- Most of coastal Asia
- The West coast of South America.
While there are several species of sand dollars in the oceans, their skeletons all look practically indistinguishable from one another, so it isn’t worth traveling the world to collect every type unless you’re a serious collector. If you’ve seen one, you’ve practically seen them all.
Chances of Finding Live Sand Dollars in Hawaii
It’s extremely rare to find live sand dollars in the water surrounding Hawaii. Though they’re often found on the shores of Hawaii and many islands in the Pacific, the environment isn’t conducive to the sand dollar’s needs, and you aren’t likely to find one while snorkeling. However, there are many impressive creatures out there to see.
The reef around Hawaii and its surrounding islands are full of light, powdery sand and calm waters. The sand dollar likes to bury itself in the sand of the sea floor and stay there. Therefore, the sand dollar needs sludgy, mud-like sand to stay safe and keep from being washed away by the tide. This sand can be found in the deeper waters of the pacific ocean, which is why they’re so commonly washed up after they die.
However, while it’s rare, it’s not impossible that you’ll stumble upon a live sand dollar on the shore or in a rock pool on Hawaii’s beaches. But if you do, it’s important that you don’t disturb it and allow the tide to take it back out to sea. Live sand dollars won’t live long outside of the water, and a decomposing sand dollar is far less fun to keep than the skeletons that you find on the beach.
How to Spot Them
Sand dollars are washed up on the shore by storms or rough tides, so you won’t have to look far to come across one of these beautiful collectibles. They’ll reside among the shells and pebbles of the beach, waiting for the tide to pull them back out to sea. The best time to find a sand dollar is immediately after a storm.
They’re often difficult to spot due to their sandy color and flat body. However, if you’re looking for a sand dollar of your own, it won’t be too difficult to come across one. Simply walk along the beach with your eyes peeled to the ground, and you’re more than likely going to run into one eventually. Be careful when you pick them up, though, as they can have a tendency to turn your hands yellow.
You can find sand dollars on the beaches of any of the Hawaiian islands and the vast span of islands surrounding it. Just make sure to show up first thing in the morning to ensure they’re not all snapped up by avid collectors like yourself. There may be a limited supply, and you want to leave some on the beach to let nature take its course.
For more information on the best times to find sand dollars, you can find a helpful article explaining everything on my website: 5 Best Times to Find Sand Dollars
In all cases, the collection of items from the beach should be done with care. Beaches are a very delicate ecosystem that shouldn’t be disturbed, and taking large amounts of shells, pebbles, or sand dollars from the beach can result in tremendous damage to the environment. However, taking a few treasured items from the beach won’t hurt.
There are currently no laws against taking small amounts of items from the beach for a personal collection. You’re legally free to take whatever you want from the shores of Hawaii, so long as it isn’t in a protected area and you’re not harvesting things on a large scale.
However, be aware that the law is constantly changing, and you should always check the current rules of the area you’re in before taking sand dollars from the beach.
As they aren’t native to the area, there are no specific laws against taking live sand dollars home with you. However, doing so will result in the death of the sand dollar and could potentially become a biohazard as it decomposes. Sand dollars enjoy tropical waters, so they shouldn’t be kept as pets or stored in fresh water for an extended period of time. If you spot a live sand dollar, just leave it be.
For more information on the legality of collecting shells and other objects from the beach, there is a helpful article with all the information you need on the blog: Is Shell Collecting Illegal? What You Need to Know
You can sometimes find skeletons of sand dollars on the beach in Hawaii, despite the creature they come from not being native to the area. However, take care not to disturb the natural environment — it’s best to just take one and be on your way.
There are other parts of the US where sand dollars are far more common, so if you’re looking to travel to find one, you might find that they’re closer to home than you initially realized. However, remember to be careful when searching for sand dollars, and never remove a live one from the shoreline.