How to pick & preserve sand dollars.

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We regularly head out to Boundary Bay to hang at the in-laws’ and splash around in the ocean till sundown. The kids recently found a small collection of sand dollars there, and as we carried our treasures to the shore they pelted me with questions about “how do we know they’re not alive?”, “can we keep them forever?”, “should we wash them?” As we chatted about how to care for our little discoveries, I thought I should write about it all here.

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– Live sand dollar, picture from here

You can find sand dollars at any beach around Vancouver and Vancouver Island. The live ones are covered in velvety spines / hairs, and are usually half submerged in the sand. The ones you typically see are the skeletons (not live) sand dollars that have washed closer to shore and been bleached by the sun. They can be found in all sizes, as big as the palm of your hand or any tiny as the tip of your pinky finger.

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My mom still has a sand dollar I found at Rathtrevor Beach on Vancouver Island when I was in high school, so you can definitely keep these lovely creatures for years to come. The trick is to make sure that you clean them properly, because even though they’re dead, they will stink terribly if they’re not bleached before they go on display.

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I don’t have an exact recipe for when I’ve done it myself, but what has worked for me is to place the sand dollars in the kitchen sink, fill up the sink two or three inches deep with cool water, and then carefully pour at least a half cup of bleach into the water. You should be able to let them sit in that solution for about 2 hours – apparently you can let them sit overnight, but I find they can start to crumble around the edges if left for too long.

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Then I use tongs to take the sand dollars out of the water and place them on an old dishtowel to dry in the sun. Sometimes the bleach can make them look yellow, so if you let them bask in the sun for a while it should bring them to a nice creamy white. That’s it! Now you’re all set to do what you like with them, and your house won’t smell like a cannery!

Happy beach combing!

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