Joanne Czarnecki and a girlfriend were at the beach with their two daughters recently when they noticed two girls about 13 years old collecting buckets full of sand dollars from the water.
"They had so many that they were putting them on boogie boards and on top of an umbrella. The sheer amount of them was shocking. It was disturbing because it was so many," said Czarnecki, who used to live in Hilton Head where she was told you could not remove them. "Hilton Head is very protective of their beaches. These girls had close to 100. I knew it was wrong."
When the girls left the beach and all of the sand dollars, Czarnecki and her friend started collecting them and putting them all back in the water.
One of the moms nearby saw the women and asked if they were taking them.
"She told me her children took them and laid them out to dry," recalls Czarnecki. "I asked if she knows they are alive. She said 'yes.' I told her we teach our children not to take living things out of the water. She was obviously a tourist and of a different mindset."
Czarnecki and her friend walked away rather than be confrontational, but she walked away concerned that people are not educated, and concerned that maybe some of the sand dollars were still alive.
Czarnecki has lived in South Walton for 4 1/2 years and is familiar with South Walton Turtle Watch, who she reached out to. South Walton Turtle Watch shared Czarnecki's message in an attempt to try to educate tourists.
"They put so much effort into protecting turtles. I asked if there is anything that can be done to protect other things. At Hilton Head it is written down that it is illegal to remove them from the water and locals as well as lifeguards were verbal about telling tourists not remove them," she said.
However, Justin Wallheiser with Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission told The Sun that sand dollars are unregulated in Walton County.
"Lee County has a local ordinance that prohibits the harvest of any shells with live organisms in them, and Manatee County also has a local ordinance that limits harvest to two organisms per person. The local municipality can implement laws that are more restrictive, but they cannot implement laws that are less restrictive than the state. Therefore, you can harvest up to 100 pounds per person in Walton County," he said.
"Leave all wild things alone; don't pick up; don't feed; don't shine lights on it," they advised.