In Florida it is illegal to collect vertebrate fossils (excluding shark teeth) without a permit from lands owned by the state. State lands include the bottoms of navigable waterways like rivers, lakes and some streams. A permit to collect vertebrate fossils on state lands can be obtained through the Florida Museum of Natural History. There is a $5 fee per year, and the permit holder agrees to report their vertebrate fossil finds on a yearly basis. The state has the right to claim any fossils found that are deemed scientifically significant as a condition of issuing the permit. This law applies to both Florida residents and those traveling to the state.
Like shark teeth, invertebrate and plant fossils can be collected without a permit (sea shells, echinoids and petrified wood). Often times, fossil hunters come across human artifacts. The difference between fossils and artifacts is that an artifact represents something that has been shaped or constructed by prehistoric humans while fossils are the remains of ancient life. Sometimes it is difficult to distinguish between the two 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 utilized this material to construct projectile points and other tools. If you cannot tell the difference, then it is best to leave the object where it was found. Collecting of human artifacts on state lands is illegal.
No fossil collecting of any type is allowed inside the boundaries of national and state parks or wildlife refuges. It is suggested that fossil collectors check with the manager of any lands they are interested in collecting from as some areas are off-limits to collecting of any kind. Remember, this applies only to state lands; private lands are a different matter. It is not illegal to remove either human artifacts or vertebrate fossils from private land as long as you have the landowner’s permission. However, the collection of artifacts on private land is not allowed if the area contains a human burial.
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.