The Treasure Trove of Sand Dollars

Sand Dollar Beach, George Town, Exumas.

One of the best beaches in the Bahamas is called ‘Sand Dollar beach’, miles of gleaming white sand with a backbone of slow rising sand hills overlooking the Atlantic.
I had arrived in George Town with the 40ft ketch ‘P.A.’ – but minus Judy who had ‘jumped ship’…… When a boat enters the bay, it is usual to get bearings and establish an anchorage to drop the hook and hit town for supplies. I had heard that some boats were tucked away next to ‘Sand Dollar Beach’ but I had no idea to what the name referred to? Was it an old Pirate name? Were there really gold dabloons to be found?? Inexperienced as I was (then) I couldn’t guess and didn’t even think of asking at first, but one day in town the remote anchorage was mentioned by one of the locals, so I took the opportunity of asking what a ‘Sand Dollar’ was?? I was told it was like a round flat shell with holes in it???
Robert & Helen were due soon and I had the boat anchored under the ‘Monument’ just off Lee Stocking Island, George Town…….came the day, Robert, Helen and myself took a long walk along the Atlantic beach towards the famous ‘Chat N Chill Bar’, we had a few beers and messed about at the clear waters edge. Robert had asked me what the name [SDB] referred to, but I had to confess I had only just found out but hadn’t seen one – and I didn’t know of anyone else that had seen one either………
During the walk back to the boat, paddling our feet, Robert was commenting on how clear and warm the water was when suddenly – we stumbled upon a white round shell like thing almost hidden under the fine sand, shallow waves were lapping over its edges…….”Bloody hell” I shout – “this must be what they are all meaning”!!!! We walk over to it and carefully examine its delicate form. I lift it carefully out of the water, it is really beautiful, very delicate and marked with a 5 leaf design surrounded by five long holes and one slightly off centre. We pass it around and Robert doesn’t believe I have not planted it – he thinks I have placed it there just for us to find by accident??? It holds our close attention for many minutes drying gleaming white in the hot sun.
That was the first and the last time I ever saw a sand dollar until a year later just after hurricane Floyd had hit Green Turtle Cay. Linda [off the boat ‘Water lilly’] who lived in Green Turtle was regularly painting sand dollars and selling them to raise funds for ‘Reef Relief’ (a charity installing mooring balls to protect marine life and the habitat around the Islands). The storm of Floyd had revealed hundreds of DEAD sand dollars washed up on a deserted beach in and around a secret location which Linda was willing to share with me. I just couldn’t wait to see for myself where this mysterious little creature lived and died.
Boarding Linda’s 25ft ‘Mako’ – a somewhat BMW runabout of the sea – we headed out for a fast spin around the bay, we were heading for a secret and lonely location about 15 minutes away from New Plymouth. Rounding a bend and speeding into a wide open white sand lined bay, I could see the Atlantic crashing down on the protective reef but allowing an occasional wash of crystal clear water to flow into our secret bay……we dropped the tiny hook and jumped overboard into glorious bathwater.
Donning snorkel, mask and flippers we skimmed underwater along the sand. Linda had instructed me to stay close and WATCH…..the water was only about 5 ft deep and I could see clearly there was a line of grass like growth just peeping through the soft white sand. Wafting the powder like sand away I saw my first LIVE sand dollar – brown, flat and covered in millions of tiny hairs……she shook her head and pointed to a white one giving an acknowledged thumbs-up as I reached for it.
A few hours had past and I can honestly say – we had HUNDREDS, we had collected so many we had them stuffed down our pants and Linda had abandoned her bikini top to fill the cups with some of the prize examples. Back at the ranch…..I learned that we had to bleach most of them (something the sun does naturally where they lie undisturbed until the waves break them into powder). Being so fragile, once one is broken open – inside there are said to be the ‘Five Doves of Peace’………Alive, these weird Echinoids [Echinoderms] live, move and reproduce just under the surface of (clean) sand. How many have been trodden on – unbeknown??????
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