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Beachcombing Regulations Abound. Know Before You Go!

Posted by Jody on October 17, 2013

Do you know what (if any) seashells and critters you are allowed to bring home from the shore? Times are changing! Many municipalities now have rules and shelling regulations regarding what beachcombers are allowed to collect. Every now and then these ordinances are passed with the intention of preserving the delicate coastal ecosystem. In some places a violation of existing shelling regulations can result in a stiff fine and even jail time!

Can you bring me home?

Is there a resident hermit crab inside? Maybe!

Tybee Island, Georgia, passed a law in 2011 against the collection of living sea creatures. Animals protected by the new beachcombing law include live sea stars (aka: star fish), sand dollars, and hermit crabs. It’s important to know that hermit crabs can be pretty tricky critters! You may have to inspect a seashell more than once to be absolutely certain it’s empty.

According to the 2011 Tybee Island shelling regulation: beachcombers’ take home treasures can still include empty shells and nonliving animals.

Sand Dollar

Sand Dollar

If you are lucky enough to find a sand dollar, here’s a simple way to tell if it is still living. Examine it to see if it’s tiny, fuzz-like hairs (cilia) are moving. You may turn the sand dollar over and touch it very gently with your finger to check. If it is still alive you’ll surely want to gently place it (bottom side down) back in calmer water, on the sand. Seriously, hurling live sea creatures back into the ocean is never a good idea!

Live Sand Dollar (Reverse Side)

Live Sand Dollar (Reverse Side)

On Sanibel Island, Florida (widely recognized as the best shelling beach in the United States) it has been illegal to collect live specimens since January 1, 1995. According to The City of Sanibel website, “All Sanibel beaches and nearshore waters to one-half mile from shore are protected by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection Rule 46-26.” This shelling regulation established a complete ban on the collection of live shells. The remainder of Lee County, Florida followed suit on March 1, 2002. Sea stars, sand dollars, and sea urchins are also protected.

The Town of Hilton Head, South Carolina shelling regulation prohibits “Removal, harming, or harassment of any live beach fauna (sea turtles, sand dollars, conchs, starfish, etc.)”

Beachcombing on the Bolivar Peninsula of the Texas Gulf Coast

Beachcombing on the Bolivar Peninsula of the Texas Gulf Coast

Oftentimes, an official permit is mandatory for live collecting. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission declares: “A Florida recreational saltwater fishing license (resident or non-resident, whichever is applicable) is required in order to harvest a sea shell containing a living organism, even when harvesting from shore.” 

Before heading to the beach for a fun-filled day of treasure hunting, beachcombers would be wise to check for the most up-to-date local beachcombing regulations. Wildlife refuges, conservancies, national and state parks, counties, cities, and states could all have differing rules for the types of seashells and sea life that may be removed from the beach! Occasionally they conflict. And in some instances, all shelling and collecting is prohibited. We always play it safe and go with the strictest of the rules and regs. That’s one way to keep those hard earned vacation dollars in our pockets!

~~~ It’s that important to know before you go! ~~~

We’d really like to hear about the shelling regulations on your favorite beach. Please feel free to share!

13 Responses to “Beachcombing Regulations Abound. Know Before You Go!”

  1. Great points! Great pictures.

  2. nutsfortreasure said

    Who knew thanks for the heads up now I must check all my sand dollars I would hate to kill them 😦 I thought they were dead well they usually are when the gulls find them

  3. I LIKED on Facebook today, I was drawn to your sea shells as I collected them when I was a kid so this brings me so many good memories.

  4. My son is VERY hopeful to find sea glass while we are in Hilton Head next week. Do you have a suggested time that is best to head out and search?? We’d appreciate any advice. He’s never seen sea glass before and is so excited.

  5. This morning was our first morning out looking for shells. He found a lot of conch shells…I think that is what they are. One was pretty big so he was very excited. We made sure they were completely empty. He also found one sand dollar that we took a picture of and then threw back. Such beautiful treasures!! Can’t wait to get back out and look some more!

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