Why You Shouldn’t Pick up Starfish

Why You Shouldn’t Pick up Starfish

Yes, they're beautiful, but here’s why you should leave them in the ocean
Alexander & VictoriaHi! We're Alex & Victoria - a digital nomad couple from Copenhagen escaping 9-5 to chase adventures in our beautiful world. Learn more about us here.
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The disappointing reality

While visiting Phu Quoc in March-April 2019 we heard a lot about a famous beach called Starfish Beach.

It’s famous for… Well, you guessed it… Starfish (or Sea Stars!).

It’s not the first beach we have seen with starfish.

In fact, we have been to another beach called Starfish Beach in Bocas Del Toro, Panama – and in The Philippines, we saw a few different beaches with starfish too.

But everywhere, we see the same thing happening…

People are touching, lifting, holding, moving, rearranging and playing with the starfish.

All for the perfect photo.

We have even heard about people throwing them around in the water and some take starfish with them back home in plastic bags as souvenirs.

It’s wrong, it’s irresponsible and it makes us so sad…

This act may appear innocent and harmless but it can be fatal for these wonderful creatures.

Let us tell you why.

The famed Starfish Beach
Starfish Beach on Phu Quoc in Vietnam. Touching starfish is a touchy subject. We say it’s best to leave them alone in the ocean where they belong.
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Starfish in Vietnam
Scientifically, starfish are classed as Asteroidea. Pretty cool name, right?

Some facts about starfish


  • …are not fish but they need to breathe to live and they can only do that underwater. They suffocate in the air.
  • …are prone to mental stress and they react to small changes in their environment. Imagine what it must do to the stress level being forced out of the water.
  • …are extremely fragile and they have tiny structures all over their bodies that might get hurt by a human’s touch. Even a gentle poke can be harmful.
  • …can get contaminated with bacteria passed on from the hands of a human which can result in a slow and painful death.

Doing anything else than looking at starfish will harm them and in most cases, it will be the cause of their death.

Starfish in water
Starfish are beautiful, fragile creatures.

Be a part of the solution

We know that many people don’t know this.

That it’s not on purpose.

And we do not want to blame anybody, but instead, simply point out that we are all responsible when it comes to the future of our planet and its inhabitants.

That’s why we need to spread awareness.

We need to take better care of these magical marine animals.

And you can help too!

Next time you go to the beach and have the urge to take some beautiful photos, better not risking another creature’s life.

If you see someone harming starfish by picking them up or moving them, you can step in and inform the person about the damage it can cause. Objectively and without blame.

Disturbing nature for the perfect Instagram photo is NOT worth it!

Please abstain from touching the starfish at Starfish Beach
She most likely meant no harm, but touching and moving the starfish hurt them.
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Proper behaviour around starfish

Starfish belong in the water

The starfish live in the ocean.

They like being there.

And they actually need to breathe underwater.

Don’t sacrifice the health of the starfish for your next Instagram post.

Bocas del Toro's Starfish Beach (Playa Estrella)
Bocas del Toro’s Starfish Beach (Playa Estrella).
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Be careful where you step

If you’re going for a swim or walk into the water to get closer to the starfish, mind your steps.

Alex proudly enjoying the Starfish Beach without touching any starfish
Alex proudly enjoying the Starfish Beach without touching any starfish.

Starfish are not souvenirs

This is pretty much self-explanatory, but seriously…

Do not take them with you back home.

Starfish in Panama
Starfish in Panama.

Photograph the starfish underwater

It’s not impossible to get a good photo of a starfish.

And you can even take the picture in their natural habitat!

If you want to take underwater photos, you can use an underwater camera, a GoPro (adlink) or a waterproof case for your phone.

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A starfish in its right habitat
A starfish in its right habitat.

To sum it all up

It’s quite simple. These beautiful animals are very fragile.

Do not disturb them and enjoy the starfish without touching them.

Starfish are living creatures and so pretty
This starfish loves you for leaving it in the ocean.

Are starfish poisonous?

A lot of people wonder if starfish are dangerous because they have spikes.

The answer is no, starfish are not poisonous at all and their spikes can’t hurt you unless it pierces your skin – or if the spike has a venomous substance on them which only happens in some species of sea stars like urchins.

Experts often tell people not to pick up starfish, especially if they’re on the shore. Regardless of their beautiful appearance, they are important members of ocean ecosystems and should be left alone in order to thrive.

Starfish on beach, dangerous or not?
Some people worry about getting stung by a starfish, but the answer is no: Starfish aren’t poisonous and you’re unlikely to get any sort of serious injury. Photo by Pedro Lastra.

What about urchins? Are they dangerous?

Urchins can be very dangerous if handled improperly or without gloves on as their venomous spikes could cause serious injury.

Sea urchins leave puncture wounds on the skin which can become infected. The affected area often appears red and swollen and is painful within moments of contact.

Sea urchin
Sea urchins are not poisonous but their spikes can cause serious injury. Be careful! Photo by Noaa.

Do starfish bite?

No, starfish don’t bite.

They have no teeth and are not dangerous to humans.

These small sea creatures are not exactly known for their voracious appetite and won’t harm you.

Thank you for reading

And thank you for wanting to take better care of all living beings, including starfish.

You are amazing!

Make sure to use a reef-safe sunscreen (adlink) when you swim to protect the corals from harm as well.

To help spread awareness, you can share this article with a friend or on your social media profiles.

Feel free to add your thoughts in the comments too.

Why You Shouldn't Pick Up Starfish from the Beach. Even though starfish are beautiful and look great on a photo from your vacation, you should leave them in the ocean. In this artcle we tell you why.
Why You Shouldn't Pick Up Starfish from the Beach. Even though starfish are beautiful and look great on a photo from your vacation, you should leave them in the ocean. In this artcle we tell you why.
Why You Shouldn't Pick Up Starfish from the Beach. Even though starfish are beautiful and look great on a photo from your vacation, you should leave them in the ocean. In this artcle we tell you why.

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9 thoughts on “Why You Shouldn’t Pick up Starfish

  1. I’m curious what happens to the many starfish that get caught on land and the tide goes out. Do they die quite soon? Or are they able to survive until the next tide? I can’t find this online? Thanks for the article. Was there today and wondered if I should even go there to not even contribute to the cruel practice. I can’t reprimand everyone, I try too.. 🙁 but none the less, so many star fish run themselves on land. I assume they all die right? And then get eaten I’m also assuming

    • Hi Ross, thank you so much for your thoughtful comment. Unfortunately, we do not have the answers to your questions, either.

      Spreading the information in a calm and collected way is definitely one of the best ways to go. Most people just don’t know much about starfish and unluckily assume some wrong things…

      It’s so great to hear how much you care about starfish. Once again, thanks!

    • Ross, unfortunately this article is a bunch of unscientific garbage sprinkled with holier than thou attitude. Starfish are amazingly hardy animals. While you shouldn’t pry it off of rocks due to the risk of hurting their tubular “legs”, picking up a startfish for a minute to take a picture won’t hurt it. As you noticed they sometimes pile up on rocks during the low tide. That’s because they hunt clams and other creatures there, this is natural for them and startfish are perfectly adapted to these conditions. There’s always an occasional tide that keeps them wet enough to continue to breathe through the entire surface of their body.

      • Thanks for stopping by!

        Our unscientific opinion is this: When you can ask a starfish whether or not it would like to be picked up for a minute to get its picture taken and it accepts, go ahead. Until then, better to err on the side of caution and admire them without touching.

        It’s a pretty basic, general rule for being human now that we think about it 🙂

  2. Thank you for sharing this. I didn’t know it hurt them to touch. I Will remember this and share with my students.

  3. Great and very informative article. How sad that we don’t find out about the damage we could do to these beautiful creatures without people like you informing us, so thank you. Sadly, unless we read articles like yours, we don’t know the harm that can be done, and I will make sure that anyone that I know going to the beaches should know not to touch starfish. Sadly, these days you have to be careful even at the beach to tell anyone anything, but hopefully they will learn on their own. Keep doing, these beautiful informative pieces. They are incredible. Thank you.

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