Broken Sand Dollar Project

The last 2 times we’ve been to the beach we’ve found a TON of washed up sand dollars (already dead), due to the terrible red tide we had.  They even talked about it in the Naples Daily News (although this article is saying it may not have been due to the red tide). They were all different sizes.  Some as small as a dime and some as big as 4 or 5 inches across.  However, they are so delicate that many of them broke by the time we got home.  I hated the thought of throwing them all away so I searched Pinterest for ideas on what to do with broken shells and saw some cute ideas that inspired me.  Here is what I came up with.

PLEASE NOTE: I have had several comments that these sand dollars were alive because they were brown.  I can assure you that they were definitely dead and found 10 feet from the shore.  They just hadn’t had a chance to turn white yet from the sun.  I would NEVER take a sand dollar that is alive and well and living in our waters. Once again here is an article from the Naples Daily News that talked all about it.

This post contains some affiliate links for your convenience (which means if you make a purchase after clicking a link I will earn a small commission which helps keep my blog up and running but it won’t cost you a penny more)!

Materials Used in this Project

Float Frame from Michael’s

Broken Sand Dollars

Glue gun

Paint Pens 

Wine Glass Makers

First off, here are some pictures of some of the unbroken sand dollars we found.  You need to clean them first if they are brown, like the first picture below.  To clean I poured a tiny bit of bleach and lots of water into a bowl, and let it sit for about 5 minutes.  Once white, I rinsed and they looked amazing.  The bottom right picture is a shadow box I’ve had forever that I used to make a quick project with some of the unbroken ones.

Step 1 in my Broken Sand Dollar Project…

Now, back to what to do with the broken ones.  I found the perfect map of Florida online and printed it out.  I had this extra 11×14 gray barnwood float frame from when I made this sea glass project (and the frames were buy one get one free) and have been wanting to do something with it.  A float frame is just 2 pieces of glass and a frame.  It has no back so when you hang it, it takes on the color of the walls.   I put the map underneath the glass and then traced it onto the glass using this pen that is usually used to write names on wine glasses, so it wipes right off.  (By the way, these pens are so fun to have at parties, or make a great gift.)

You could also use a shadow box for this project.  Here is a cute one from amazon.

Step 2 – Fill in the Shape…

You can use any state you want, or any shape you want.  Once it is traced onto the glass you can start filling in the shape with the broken sand dollars and gluing them down.  I used a few unbroken ones too.  My son helped me with this and loved it and did such a great job.  You could also do this with any kid of shells.

Step 3 Finishing Touches…

Once you are satisfied with how it looks, wipe or scrape off any extra glue using a razor blade tool.  You can also wipe off any visible pen marks.  Then, add the frame and hang.  At the last minute I opted to write the words Home Sweet Home on it using these paint pens since it seemed a little bare.  Here is how it looks hung in our dining room.  (I think I need to lower it a bit.) Anyway, that is what I came up with.  What do y’all think?


  • Reply Mandy Trevett September 26, 2018 at 9:31 am

    What is a sand dollar. I’m in the UK. Never seen anything like them!

  • Reply Cassie July 23, 2019 at 11:17 pm

    Aww sad to see you chose to kill live sand dollars for an art project. Please, next time consider leaving the living ones and only taking the dead or broken pieces. If they’re brown they’re still living. 🙁

    • Reply Jodi House July 24, 2019 at 7:54 am

      Is this a joke? I would NEVER kill live sand dollars. Last summer we had a terrible red tide in Southwest Florida. We found hundreds of ALREADY dead ones washed up on the shore.

    • Reply Christy January 5, 2021 at 4:41 pm

      Live sand dollars are purple and have fuzzy stuff covering them.

  • Reply Vicky August 21, 2019 at 10:18 pm

    If the sand dollars are brown to burgundy color and fuzzy…they are alive. Just because you see them up on the beach doesn’t mean they are dead. I have watched people grabbing up live sand dollars as the waves go out and it really saddens me too. They don’t seem to care even when you tell them they are alive.

    • Reply Jodi House August 22, 2019 at 8:21 am

      These were definitely dead ones as talked about in this article in the Naples Daily News, We had a horrible red tide last summer where hundreds of fish (and sand dollars) and even several dolphins were found dead on our shores. I would never take a sand dollar that I thought was alive. These were 100% dead and found about 10 feet from the shore.

      • Reply Carol Athey October 29, 2020 at 10:20 am

        I am so sorry You have to keep explaining yourself. Some people see a rose and all they can talk about are the thorns. I loved the project for Florida or any state with a coast. Thank You.

        • Reply Jodi House October 29, 2020 at 10:44 am

          Thank you for saying that, Carol! I am so glad you liked the project.

  • Reply Deirdre August 31, 2019 at 10:48 am

    Many of you really need to educate yourselves on telling live from dead sand dollars. Just because they’re still brown, green or purple and have fuzzy stuff left does not mean they’re still alive.

    Not to be overly grotesque but have you ever seen a recently deceased human? Are they instantly shriveled and decomposed? No. And neither are sand dollars instantly white or grey. It takes time laying in the sun for them to appear skeletal white – the only version of dead those of you who “know” exactly what a dead vs live sand dollar “looks” like seem to understand.

    So please, rather than bashing others due to your ignorance, do some research and learn how to truly determine if one is living or dead. Color and fuzz are not the sole identifiers.

    It’s equally sad that you blindly accuse others of killing creatures they love simply because you’re uneducated.

    • Reply Jodi House August 31, 2019 at 1:02 pm

      Thank you so much for saying this! I was a little stunned when I received these comments. I would never take a living creature from our waters. We had such a horrible red tide last summer here and tons of fish and even a bunch of dolphins washed up on shore, along with TONS of sand dollars. It was sad.

  • Reply Faye October 4, 2020 at 8:51 am

    Jodi, thanks for sharing your creativity! I’ve never posted on anyone’s project before, and I’m a nature lover too…and I knew you wouldn’t take living creatures. I’ve made similar collections of starfish, but only those deceased ones. I’m sorry people tend to jump to conclusions and post such negativity.

    • Reply Jodi House October 4, 2020 at 11:40 am

      Thanks for commenting! I was a little stunned about some of the comments. I appreciate the support so much.

  • Reply Amy November 28, 2020 at 11:42 am

    I believe she’s referring to the ones that were still dark in color, that indicates they’re still alive. Honest error on your part, and now you know.

    • Reply Jodi House November 28, 2020 at 1:07 pm

      Thank you for your comment, but I don’t believe that is always true. These were most definitely not alive. They just hadn’t had a chance to bleach in the sun. I don’t believe they turn white the minute they die. We had a horrible red tide the year I made this project and there were hundreds of sand dollars washed up on the shore, as well as hundreds of dead fish and even a handful of dolphins. It was devastating! These were all found at least 10-20 feet from the water. Tons and tons of tiny ones. Definitely dead. This was documented in our local newspaper too. I would not knowingly take one that was alive to make an art project.

  • Reply Stacia April 16, 2021 at 3:17 pm

    Not true. If they are purple and fuzzy they are PERHAPS still alive, but generally if sand dollars have washed ashore…they dead!

  • Reply Veronica Stewart April 18, 2021 at 10:40 pm

    Pansy shells (that’s how we know them) do not turn white as soon as they die. They lose their dark colour over time from sun exposure and washing backwards and forwards in the surf. As you can imagine, this takes a long time. I have a large on in my house that I found many years ago and it is definately dead and was when I found it and yet, it is still as dark in colour as the day I found it. I felt I needed to say this.

    • Reply Jodi House April 19, 2021 at 7:21 am

      Yes. Exactly. Thank you for saying that.

  • Reply Phyllis March 25, 2023 at 12:53 pm

    We recently returned from Florida and had done a dolphin/shelling tour. One of the operators of the
    tour is a marine biologist and instructed everyone to only collect the white sand dollars, as the darker
    ones could still be alive, especially if found along the shoreline still in the water.

    • Reply Jodi House March 25, 2023 at 4:26 pm


      Yes I know that rule. I’ve lived here a long time. These were found 10 or 20 ft from the shore after a terrible red tide. There were 100’s of them. They were no longer alive but just hadn’t had a chance to turn white from the sun.

  • Reply Michelle October 22, 2023 at 11:05 pm

    Hi, Jodi! I love your creative use for sand dollars! I find broken ones frequently here in Northern Japan, but generally just pass them by for want of a creative way to use them! Thanks for sharing.

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