A BEACHFRONT HOME FOR SAND DOLLARS, STARFISH, and JELLYFISH
Strolling along the soft sandy beaches in Sea Pines, Forest Beach, Palmetto Dunes, or other beaches in Hilton Head Island, you may find some buried treasures that are extremely valuable! Low tide is an ideal time for a beach walk as the coastal beach expands and small tidal pools form. Marine life flourishes in Hilton Head’s well-protected oceanfront, and it is a natural home to sand dollars, starfish, and jellyfish, yet, as you will discover they are not quite what their names imply!
Its actual value exceeds a genuine dollar because the interesting details of an eccentric sand dollar are priceless! Close yet brief observation of this spiny skinned disk’s underside will reveal thousands of tiny hairs, cilia, that serve as its feet and hands. Sand dollars use the cilia to put algae, debris, or crustacean (crab) larvae, into their flat mouths that remarkably fit five sets of tiny teeth.
The unique flower-shaped markings that have created legends are functional lunules and hold five sets of water and gas chambers that weigh them down for stability as needed on the ocean’s floor. A harmless yellow substance may appear on your hands as a reminder to gently place this aquatic treasure back into the saltwater so it can breathe through its petals (petaloids) once again. Sand dollars grow rings similar to trees that reveal their age, living up to 10 years. As their life ends, their natural brown or dark purple color is bleached white by the sun. Purchase a preserved sand dollar skeleton at a local shell shop to take home and check for tiny pieces shaped liked doves hidden inside.
The star of the beach is, of course, the starfish, which is not a fish! This spiny-skinned, star-shaped marine animal can survive out of water for short periods. Carefully turn the starfish over and discover the tiny tube-like feet with suction cups used to move and grab food for its fascinating mouth located in the center. Oysters, mollusks, and clams are no match for the starfish as its feet pry them open. Its fascinating stomach advances out of its mouth and amazingly forces itself inside the prey’s firm shell, digests it, and retracts back inside the starfish. They may also eat algae and their cousin the sand dollar.
A small red dot on the tip of each leg appears as a crown jewel but is an eye that sees the light combined with sensory tentacles to locate food. The starfish near Hilton Head live around ten years, thanks to their quick defense plan! They have the incredible ability to regenerate a limb if one is sacrificed for their safety. The brainy stars are heartless and use saltwater in place of blood, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t sweet to watch!
Photos are the best way to capture these gems, as removing the sea life will sadly end their lives, and your treasure chest is always welcome to have uninhabited shells and shark’s teeth sprinkled amongst the sand.
Jellyfish float and swim in the ocean, but they are not fish since they are invertebrates! Hilton Head’s most common jellyfish, the 8”-10” cannonball, looks frightening but is relatively harmless, with only small oral arms in place of tenacles. Their white, bell-shaped bodies are made mostly of water. Large blooms (groups) wash ashore with changing ocean currents in the spring and provide abundant food for crabs and sea birds. The larger-sized mushroom jelly is similar to the cannonball, minus the brown circular ring and slightly longer oral arms. Asian countries enjoy eating jellyfish.
Contact with jellyfish’s tentacles or oral arms should be avoided even if it appears dead. Jellyfish can inject cells called nematocysts which contain toxins just by touching the skin for hours after their death. Each tentacle can have hundreds of nematocysts. The Atlantic Sea Nettle jellyfish has tentacles around four feet in length, and small quantities have been found washed ashore in Hilton Head Island. Killing small crabs and fish is the primary intent of the Jellyfish stingers. If the tentacles accidentally brush humans, lines of inflammation often appear with the painful sting. Rarely the toxins may cause an allergic reaction that requires medical care. The best treatment for removing the stingers is brushing them with hot water, wet sand, or saltwater. Vinegar, meat tenderizer, or sugar (NOT alcohol or urine) may speed up recovery, usually lasting a few minutes to several days.
A look inside the translucent body of the jellyfish, and you’ll see only small muscles, a digestive system, and a nervous system that recognizes light and odors. As you see through their simple life and ponder their existence without a brain, heart, or lungs, they are peaceful, swimming vertically by pushing the water through their oral arms and releasing it through their mouths.
Sea Life thrives around Hilton Head Island because of the care and preservation from beachgoers. To avoid fines incorporated by the town of Hilton Head, do not remove any living sea animal. Remember, photos are the easiest way to take home beach memories from the fascinating treasures on the shore!
WRITTEN BY JANICE MAGNIN