Sea stars have their role to play

Big honking sea star

Sea stars (that is the correct name what for we commonly call starfish) are slow-moving relatives of sea cucumbers and urchins. They’re voracious eaters (though very slow) and will consume anything they creep across. Because of that, they’re often keystone species in an ecosystem, preying on other species that have no predator, to maintain ecological balance or stop an invasive species or pest.

This Panamic Cushsion sea star lives off North Seymour in the Galapagos Islands.

Humans, unfortunately, also find them beautiful when dried and place on a shelf, mantle, table or counter. So they’re sold on beaches the world over as souvenirs and decorative items. This leads to overharvesting of sea stars and disrupts entire ecosystems.

(Ironically, another sea star — the Crown of Thorns has thrived in places like Australia and southeast Asia because of the removal key stone species like mollusks and shrimp. The Crown of Thorns, however, is destructive to coral reef, which in turn can lead to ecosystem collapse.)

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