The natural spaces of Florida are enjoyed by residents and visitors alike. Florida has more than 12 million acres of publicly accessible state land including uplands, wetlands, lakes, rivers, springs, and islands providing abundant opportunities to explore natural Florida. While exploring our state lands, you may discover a fossil. Fossils are the remains of ancient life. Finding a fossil can be very exciting. However, depending on where your find is located, it may or may not be legal for you to take it with you.
There are some places where collecting fossils on public land is not allowed. These include national parks, state parks, wildlife refuges, water management district and other lands owned and managed by state and local government agencies. If you are collecting on private land with the landowner’s permission, or you are the landowner, you do not need a permit to collect fossils if there is no mining involved. If you are unsure what would qualify as mining or what permitting is needed for mining operations you can find out more at the Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s Mining and Mitigation Program Mining FAQ.
On state lands that are not part of a state park, wildlife refuge, or a state vertebrate paleontological site, you may collect plant fossils or invertebrate fossils such as petrified wood, shells, or echinoids found on the land surface without a permit. You may also collect shark teeth (a vertebrate fossil) without a permit. Collecting any other vertebrate fossil requires a Florida Fossil Permit obtained through the Florida Museum of Natural History. The permit costs $5 and is good for one year. All vertebrate fossil finds must be reported to the Florida Museum of Natural History and ones that are deemed scientifically significant may be claimed by the State as a condition of issuing the permit.
Collecting human artifacts from state lands, including submerged lands, is illegal. Sometimes it is difficult to distinguish between fossils and artifacts as prehistoric people occasionally utilized fossils as ornaments and tools. An example of fossil material that can also be an artifact is agatized coral. Prehistoric Floridians made projectile points and other tools out of agatized coral. If you cannot tell the difference, then it is best to leave the object where it was found.
In addition to the Florida Museum of Natural History permit, an Environmental Resource Permit (ERP) and authorization to use sovereign submerged lands may be required for any fossil collecting activities that disturb the soil surface within surface waters or wetlands. Dredging or filling associated with fossil collection or excavation activities may require a State 404 permit in addition to an ERP. Please contact your local FDEP district office for more information on ERP and State 404 permitting requirements
It is suggested that fossil collectors check with the manager of any lands they are interested in collecting from as some areas may be off-limits to collecting of any kind.
The Florida Department of Environmental Protection is the state’s lead agency for environmental management and stewardship – protecting our air, water and land. The vision of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection is to create strong community partnerships, safeguard Florida’s natural resources and enhance its ecosystems.