The sea star population at Starfish Beach (next to Rum Point) has dwindled substantially during the past decade, as more and more (largely irresponsible) tour operators frequent the area and allow their guests to maul the sea stars for photo opportunities.
Ten years ago there were no tour boats and dozens of sea stars near the shore; when I shot these photos a few months ago there were only two, and I had to snorkel out to much deeper water to find them; then I was almost run over by a tour boat as I laid in the water taking pictures.
Ironically, most of the companies proclaiming to offer “eco tours” are the worst offenders — posting photos to their websites and social media pages of visitors with sea stars on their heads and other absurd poses.
The (decades overdue) marine conservation law finally passed several months ago making it an offense to remove sea stars from the water, yet still few companies comply.
The rules are clearly posted on a billboard sized sign and anyone with a portable device can send photos or text of offenders to the DOE at DoE@gov.ky and they will take action. If sending photos please try to include a shot of the boat with the operator’s name, as the tour operators are responsible for the conduct of their guests.
Following are the DOE’s official guidelines:
“We discourage the lifting of starfish out of the water, even for pictures.
“The Marine Conservation Law makes it an offence to “take” starfish and defines take as “take … any marine life from its natural habitat and includes any attempt so to do”. Therefore, like with stingrays at the Sand Bar, this is interpreted to mean not lifting them out of the sea as a simple explanation/definition of “take”. Unfortunately we have had reports of starfish lifted out ‘temporarily’ and then becoming stressed and perhaps dying so we felt that a simple and clear definition of take to mean ‘take out of the water’ was the easiest to explain and enforce. Though our officers do use their discretion in enforcing this Law, preferring to educate first thus hopefully avoiding the need for more restrictive actions in the future.
“Removing starfish from the water is a harmful practice and should under no circumstances be encouraged. These animals spend their lives naturally and constantly submerged in water, diffusing oxygen from the water through the small tube feet on the underside of each of their legs. It is important that people do not take them from the water, pass them around or place them on dry land or boat decks, even just for a quick photo. It can be stressful for them and starfish have died as a result of it. All echinoderms, including starfish, are protected under Section 18(2)(c) of the Marine Conservation Law, which means that it is an offense to kill or cause harm to these creatures. They may be admired whilst still in the water but photo opportunities with them held clear of the water should not be encouraged.”
Shelly, That is where I went a few years ago and didn’t see any. I did see one on Seven Mile Beach….naturally someone had it out of the water and i did see one when i was at what is the Holiday Inn now. Also saw a spotted sting ray that trip. They both stayed in the water!
Things only get worse. I’m at Water Cay (4/2017) and yesterday counted 17 Starfish of varying sizes between Marina and Starfish Point. Not a single one was alive. These “tour’ operators run their boats almost on the shore and drop 100s on the point. No one respects the Starfish. I’ve tried on many occasions to ask folks not to take them out of the water or place them on the beach. All I’ve gotten is trash mouth threats to mind my own business. I’d say you will not find any there in 3-5 more years.