Sea star vs. algae

Hey buddy

Thanks to any number of pressures on the ocean (warming seas, acidification, ag runoff), reefs are fighting a loosing battle against algae more and more. This from South Button, featuring a lovely sea star toughing it out.

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Beautiful and barely visible

Sea star

Not a crown of thorns, but a complex sea star nonetheless. Nearly didn’t see it the first time I passed, then stared in wonder at the pattern.

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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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Hello little sea star

Burst of color

The ocean, for all it’s vibrant life, can be a dreary place full of browns and muted blues and grays and dull reds.

This is a combination of factors: Where there’s not reef, there’s often only rock and sand and mud. Algae grow everywhere and not all of it is particularly colorful. Light is filtered out by water. By the time you drop to ten meters, already a large portion of the red spectrum is not visible.

So it’s always spectacular when something really stands out, like this wonderful sea star near Isla de la Plata. For the record, these guys are an important part of some finely-tuned ecosystems, so please don’t encourage trade in exotic underwater species by buying them on vacation.

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