It does not happen often, so we were excited to find a live Sand Dollar making it's slow but sure way across the sands of the North Sound during a recent snorkelling stop. Much like starfish, it is enthralling to witness such little creatures attract the awe of children and adults alike.
These little fellas are most widely known as Sand Dollars but enjoy different names in various regions. "Sea Biscuit" is the Caribbean name, whilst South Africans call them Pansy Shells. Although thought of as a shell, this treasure usually found on the beach is the skeleton of a type of urchin. Alive, they are considered to have "endoskeletons" ("inner skeletons"), as their bodies (known as the Tests) are covered with fine silky spines and are all encompassed in a "skin".
Sand dollars feed on plankton which is pushed to it's mouth on it's underside, using the spines and cilia like a conveyor belt. These same spines can be used to bury themselves into soft sand, their preferred habitat.
Some love to believe that these sun-bleached Sand Dollars are coins lost by mermaids, whilst others are warmed by stories of the Christian symbolism this little creature carries, not least the doves of peace.
Us? We just think we are so very privileged to share the creatures and the beauty of this tropical island and never tire of it, nor the effect it has on it's visitors.