GASP! Gulf Area Sea Paddlers

Cedar Key = Sand Dollar Graveyard

Copyright By Deb Hawkins

Deb's Kayak Journal
Trip: Cedar Key to Snake Key
Date: Sunday, May 19, 1996
Who: Deb
Put-In: Beach north of Public Pier, Cedar Key, Florida

Today was really hot and sunny. I decided to paddle to Snake key and back. I got on the water at around 9:00am and headed down to the southeast end of Atsena Otie Key. There were surprisingly few people on the water for a Sunday. Just a few people fishing from small boats and a couple of guys throwing a cast net from the beach.

The water was as glassy as I have ever seen it. There was almost no wind and the sky was mostly clear. I paddled out to Snake Key and before I got very close to the island I could clearly see the bottom. The tide was out but was just starting to come in so there was a mild current moving parallel to the leeward shore of Snake Key. I let it carry me down to the southern end of the island then pulled up on the shore. There were some people in a small boat pulled up on the north end of the island. There is a long sand spit that extends out to the northwest and the people were walking along looking for something. I ignored them for the moment and went ashore. I dragged my new boat up on the bank and kicked back to rest. I hadn't really been paddling hard but figured I'd stay there for a while and try to even up my kayaker tan (dark brown arms and face, ghost white legs...)

I kept watching those people at the other end of the island. There were several kids throwing mud at each other and generally horsing around. The parents kept screaming at them to stop but this was fairly ineffective. This quickly became annoying and I got ready to leave. I pushed off the beach and drifted out about 50 feet. I looked down into the clear water and noticed what I thought was the edge of a very large sand dollar. I got really excited and tried to pick it up with my paddle. I was able to lift it up about a foot before it fell off and went back to the bottom. With no alternative I jumped into the water. I reached down and could just barely reach it with my fingertips. I pulled it up and realized that it was perfect. I couldn't believe my luck. I figured that this was probably what those other people were searching for on that sand spit.

I was just getting ready to jump back in my boat when I saw another one directly under the boat. I slowly turned around and realized that I was surrounded by dead sand dollars. I counted ten of them within a few meters of my boat. They were all perfect with the exception of a couple of small chips on two of them. This is the first time I have found sand dollars while paddling so I was really stoked. I have been to this same spot at least 5 times before and the water has either been too cloudy or too deep to see the bottom. I don't know if the sand dollars are there all the time or if I just got really lucky with the tide and the water clarity.

I collected the ten that were nearby and put them behind the seat in my kayak. I also found a couple of live ones but put them back. I tried not to appear too excited and let on what I had found because I didn't want the yahoo family coming over and trampling what I was already thinking of as MY sand dollar graveyard. I got back in my boat and headed back toward Cedar Key. I paddled slowly looking at the bottom the whole time. I couldn't believe how many sand dollars there were. The bottom was littered with them. I could have brought home hundreds of them if I had wanted to.

I got back to the beach at Cedar Key and unloaded the boat. I wrapped the sand dollars in my wet t-shirt for the ride back to Gainesville after managing to get them back to the beach without breaking them. I loaded the boat on the truck and headed home.

As I was driving back to Gainesville, I started thinking about those sand dollars. I grew up on the Atlantic side of Florida and have spent years of my life on the beach. Ever since I can remember, I would walk along the beach with my mom searching for the elusive whole sand dollar. We would find little pieces of them often but the rough wave action of the east coast made the probability of finding a whole one unlikely. My mom, however, is relentless in her search. She can spend hours walking along the edge of the water, as the tide goes out, looking for them. As a result, she is the family champion sand dollar collector. I have only found one my entire life and that one was a fluke because I happened to spot it as we were driving along the beach on the way to the inlet.

In one five minute period today, I broke the long standing record. I thought about the hours of searching we had all done as kids. It started to seem like there had been a rapid devaluation of the sand dollar because of the stash I had found.

When I got home I couldn't wait to call my mom to gloat. I haven't quite made up my mind how many I am going to give her.

"I prefer to learn hard lessons through the misadventures of others."

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