Stories of the Sand Dollar
Not so long ago, Children were told stories about sand dollars. They were pressed sand, or more colorfully, mermaid money. Sand dollars look like round white coins, thus their name. But some adults as well have superstitions about them. Some think finding a whole one is rare and lucky while others believe they’re gifts from God, or a sign from Heaven. One legend says the five marks on a sand dollar are actually five white doves and when broken open releases them to spread peace and happiness. The legend of the sand dollar has become a Christmas and Easter staple. See the accompanying video.
But as adults, we also realize they are animals living in sandy ocean beds. They are found along a beach, generally at low tide. Most found on a beach are already dead. In actuality sand dollars are marine invertebrates called Echinoids, meaning "spiny skinned creature.”
The common sand dollar of the northeastern United States is classified as Echinarachnius Parmaand is closely related to starfish, sea lilies, sea cucumbers and sea urchins. Their flat outer shells are circular and they are able to move about by means of many tiny spines imbedded in their shell. In the center, a petal like design is formed by numerous perforations called gonopores.
Some mistakenly believe picking them up to keep is wrong because they are alive. As stated before most washed ashore are already deceased. The ones that aren’t are most likely in the process of dying. It’s not difficult to identify dead ones. They will be smooth on both sides, and usually a lot whiter in color. It should be noted here, most beaches and state parks prohibit removing any live sea life from their habitat.
Many people collect sand dollars and use them to make spectacular sand dollar crafts. They are commonly used in creating home décor; wedding favors, place cards…the list is virtually endless. Some paint beach scenes, sunsets or put personalized messages on them. But before any creation is made they must first be preserved properly:
· Soak them in a bucket of fresh water, changing the water after it turns brownish red. Repeat until the water remains clear, otherwise they will begin to give off a foul odor.
· Next, soak them in a mixture of bleach water for 15-20 minutes. Three parts water to one part bleach. Any longer and they become yellowish, brittle and crumble.
· Rinse with running water for at least two minutes.
If your sand dollars aren’t as white as desired at this point, try bleaching them in the sun a while. Or you can spray them with white paint or lacquer. However, if you have the time, place them on an ant mound. The ants will clean them while the sun does the rest. This method takes about week.
The last step is the hardening process. Mix white glue with water in equal parts and use a sponge brush to coat them. Once they are dry a wide variety of things can be made.