Dendraster Excentricus

dendraster excentricus

For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities – his eternal power and divine nature – have been clearly seen, being understood
from what has been made, so that men are without excuse Romans 1:20 (NIV)

While snorkelling in the languid waters of the Caribbean Sea off the lee side of Grenada, I finally spied what I’d been searching for. Taking a deep breath I dived, startling a small shoal of blueheads that darted away to shelter among some sea grass. Completing my descent, I paused for a second to look at two neon gobies alongside some brain coral and then propelled myself along the sea floor toward a purplish black invertebrate that was lodged obliquely in the golden sand. Scooping it up, I kicked hard and headed for the surface. Sucking in a mouthful of air I rolled onto my back, removed my goggles, and examined my find. I was thrilled. It was about 75mm in diameter with the distinctive flower-like pattern on the aboral side of the body – a perfect specimen of dendraster excentricus.

Back in my hotel room I placed the specimen on the balcony table and left it to dry in the sun. A few days later I washed the spines off to expose the beauty of this little sea urchin. Examining the body closely I could see that while it seemed to be one piece, it was in fact a fine network of calcium carbonate plates tightly wedged together. But most spectacularly, what caught my attention, and what had prompted my quest to find this echinoid, were the markings. The markings are seen by many to symbolise the birth, crucifixion and resurrection of Christ. Because of the markings this legend has arisen:

There is a legend in this land about a dollar made of sand

How much it’s worth I’ve not been told, perhaps a lot, maybe more than gold

The Sand Dollar, so they tell, is also called the ‘Holy Ghost Shell’

It’s fascinating as can be, this shell that comes up from the sea

The Christian story it does compel this fragile, lovely piece of shell Christ’s birth,

His death, how He rose again, can be found in this strain

An Easter lily – a five pointed star, five narrow slits, there they are

Like the spear wound and holes from nails, just look at that!

It never fails

A Christmas poinsettia and a bell, are also found on the reverse of the shell

Inside the shell, should it be broken, are five little birds – another token

Five little birds called ‘Doves of Peace’ to teach us we should never cease

To love and help our fellow man, the lesson’s here – right in the sand

As friends like you, and all that’s free, Sand Dollars are a treasure . . . at least, to me.

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