Treasure Hunting off Pine Cay

Wednesday, July 3rd, 2013

A Bounty of Dollars Await the Keen Eye

Guests share their Meridian Club story

Every time Meridian Club guest, Saundra, reaches out to turn on her glass table lamp at home, she thinks of the secluded island paradise in the Turks and Caicos.  Not because of the lamp, but rather because of what she has collected within its glass body.  Preferring a simple, uncluttered feel to her home, Saundra has done away with trinkets and knickknacks that used to occupy her shelves – save for the prized collection encased within her lamp.

Saundra is a treasure hunter.  During each annual vacation to The Meridian Club she spends hours snorkeling along the sand bars in search of sand dollars.
Saundra and her husband, Richard, have been regular guests on Pine Cay for nine consecutive years.  Their first holiday to the tiny, private island resulted from a travel agent’s recommendation.  And after spending one week in the quiet solitude of Pine Cay beach with its clear turquoise waters and unspoiled beauty, they were hooked.

It was during that magical first visit that they learned of a sand bar off Pine Cay where they could snorkel in search of skeletons of this sea urchin relative.  Saundra remembers the experience like it was yesterday.  The crystal clear water, white sand underfoot, and the childlike glee she felt when she spotted the curved edge of a sand dollar buried beneath the soft sand. “It was better than finding buried treasure,” she gushes, “and then I couldn’t wait to do it again.”

Again and again, Saundra and Richard have come to The Meridian Club to snorkel the shallow waters of Pine Cay to add to their sand dollar collection.  Saundra admits that the search for sand dollars has become a bit more difficult over the years but she has a secret weapon.  She has an uncanny ability to sense where the bounty lies and has never come back empty-handed.  “I just feel them.  I know it sounds kinda crazy, but I know where they are,” she says.

This year, Saundra and Richard hauled in 46 sand dollars.  A few years back they found more than 150 of the unique skeletons.

Their approach is pretty straightforward, but very precise.  Upon arriving at The Meridian Club, Saundra studies the tide charts and schedules their sand dollar excursions for low-tide periods.  “Sometimes, we are out in the water very early in the morning,” she laughs.  Usually out in the water for an hour or slightly longer, Saundra directs the duo to where she knows they will find the sand dollars.  The thrill has not left her.  She visits sand bars, carefully scanning below her for the telltale ring.  A couple of times she has reached for a skeleton to find instead a live sand dollar. “They are furry and soft,” she says lovingly, “and I just leave them where I found them.”

The military-like precision of their efforts has rewarded them with an abundance of beautiful sand dollars over the years.  But Saundra, unaccustomed to clutter, concedes, “we can’t take them all back with us so we have started leaving them behind for other guests to enjoy and to take home as souvenirs of their time on the island.”

When asked to explain what the sand dollars mean to her, Saundra is overcome by her experience in the Turks and Caicos.  “Each one is so unique, but they are all from paradise. They are all from Pine Cay and it’s magical. It’s the first thing I think of when we arrive.”

Plans are already underway for next year’s visit. Preferring the slightly warmer water in June, Saundra and Richard have already booked their stay in – no surprise here – The Sand Dollar Cottage!

The Sand Dollar

The sand dollar begins its life as a larvae and then develops into the plankton stage before finally taking on the familiar circular shape as a juvenile. A burrowing type of sea urchin, adult sand dollars have a rigid skeleton with a beautiful, fivefold radial pattern.  When alive, they are covered in a soft skin of velvety spines. Tiny tube feet called podia let them move and burrow.  Their motion on sandy bottoms leaves an unmistakable circular “brushed wave” pattern.

When they are alive, sand dollars seek protection by burying themselves.  They are filter feeders and have an amazing set of five teeth located in the center hole on the underside of their bodies.  These teeth are called Aristotle’s Lantern and sea urchins use them like little beaks to filter fine organic particles from the sand.

When they die, the skin wears off to reveal a unique petal-like pattern that has become a perfect memento by which to remember relaxed days on the beach.

What do you collect?

Has your holiday at The Meridian Club inspired you to start your own collection?  Or perhaps you already have a special collection that you would like to share with us?  We welcome our guest and friend stories and look forward to hearing from you.