Book here
Book here

4 min read

Stop! Why shouldn't you touch a starfish?

Stop! Why shouldn't you touch a starfish?

As we saw in other Isla Contoy Experience blog posts, Isla Contoy National Park is a Natural Protected Area by the Mexican Government. This means that there are currently many laws to take care of the island's land and marine fauna and flora.


While Contoy is known as the Island of Birds (because of the number of birds that inhabit it), its Marine Fauna is just as vast and fascinating. Not only will you find colorful fish and turtles, but also invertebrates such as sea urchins and starfish.

Let's talk about starfish.


One of the most popular species in the Caribbean area is the starfish or Asterioidea. Although it lives underwater, it is not a fish. It is a type of echinoderm that is more closely related to sea urchins.

There are about 1900 different species of sea stars in the world, some are found very close to the shore, and others can live at depths greater than 6000 meters. They are present in all oceans but are not found in any freshwater habitat.

As its name suggests, its shape is that of a star. It has a central part and five arms (although some may have more extremities). Its surface can be smooth, granular, or spiny, and some sea stars can even regenerate their damaged or lost arms.

They feed on microorganisms through a filtering system on their underside, but they can also eat sea sponges.

They move thanks to the tiny legs on their arms and adhere to surfaces thanks to suction cups located on those legs.

How long do starfish live?


The life span depends on the species. Larger ones usually live longer than smaller ones, having a life span between 10 and 34 years.


Types of starfish 

Among the starfish found in the Caribbean, we can observe:

  • Cushion star (Oreaster reticulatus): It is the most famous species in the Caribbean waters. It has 5 arms with a rounded body. They are located in soft sand, mangroves, lagoons, and shallow reefs. They grow as much as they feed, so the size of the specimens can vary greatly. Specimens up to 50 centimeters in diameter have been found. These stars are commonly taken from the sea, painted, and then sold illegally to tourists.
  • Ophionereis commutabilis: This species was first found in the El Aerolito cave in Cozumel, Quintana Roo, this means that it is a native species of the Caribbean and Mexico specifically. It was found in 2019 and is considered one of the 3 sea stars in the world that lives inside caves.

Other equally fascinating species found in other waters of the world are: 

  • Common starfish (Asterias Rubens): It is present in all European seas, from Norway to Senegal, except the Mediterranean Sea. It lives in coastal areas at depths of up to 200 meters in both cold and tropical water. It can live up to 10 years.
  • Velartids: There are 8 genera in this family. Their body is chubby, and they usually have 5 limbs. This species is usually found at great depths.




Because they pump water into their bodies, they are especially vulnerable to water pollution as they are not very good at filtering water. Events such as oil spills have a major impact on their communities.

Another constant threat to sea stars is predation by other species such as crabs, conches, fish, seabirds, and otters. Some species manage to defend themselves by secreting an unpleasant taste or toxins. Others have spines that make them unattractive to natural predators.

Studies have shown that many species of sea stars are vulnerable to high temperatures. The ochre sea star (Pisaster ochraceus) absorbs water to cool itself when exposed to the sun.

Its biggest threat is humans. Many starfish that wash up on shores or in shallow waters are handled and removed from the water, especially in tourist areas. Because of this, the starfish suffocate to death due to lack of water. Some traders tend to take them out of the water to paint them and sell them as souvenirs, which affects their population.


Why shouldn’t you touch starfish?

Everyone needs to understand the importance of not touching and not removing starfish from the sea. The answer is simple: starfish die when they are taken out of the water. Since starfish cannot stay in the water and breathe, they suffer from carbon monoxide poisoning, which causes them to die from asphyxiation. Another common cause of death is stress from handling them too much.

How long can a starfish last out of water?

Starfish can resist between 3 and 5 minutes out of the water before dying. However, this is not an excuse to constantly take them out and put them in the water. As mentioned above, they can die from stress.

How do you know if a starfish is dead?

When starfish die, they lose their coloration and even begin to disintegrate or lose limbs. Another way (that qualified personnel uses to check their state of health) is by analyzing the small suction cups that are located on each of their legs. If the suction cups do not react or are hanging, it is a symptom of disease or death.

If the starfish has white spots or does not feel firm to the touch, it is very likely that it needs veterinary attention specialized in marine creatures.


Can I touch starfish during the Isla Contoy Experience Tour?

No. Isla Contoy National Park is a Natural Protected Area by the Mexican Government. Therefore, if you handle any animal or species in this place, you will be subject to a heavy fine or even jail time.

If you are not in Isla Contoy and you see a starfish, don't touch it! Remember that it is crucial to respect all marine species, as each has an important role in its ecosystem. We can admire and photograph starfish without touching them.


How to take care of starfish

Several species of starfish have become extinct, and many are currently under threat from pollution and human manipulation. Unfortunately, in the Quintana Roo area, this species is not protected by government laws as they are not considered endangered.

As sea lovers, we can do some things to take care of the starfish:

  • Educate visitors about the nature of these creatures.
  • Denounce the starfish trade to marine protection agencies.
  • Alert authorities to sources of pollution that may harm starfish.
  • Reprimand those who handle starfish.
  • Report on social media those photographs of people taking starfish out of their ecosystems.

We hope that, with this guide, you can understand and share why you should not take starfish out of the water. Your help is very important to take care of our ecosystems and protect species as beautiful and vulnerable as sea stars.

Animals you can see on your way to Isla Contoy

5 min read

Animals you can see on your way to Isla Contoy

All set for your next tour to Isla Contoy? Put a lot on the road, because you might see these magnificent animals!

Leer más
5 reasons to visit Isla Contoy in 2023

6 min read

5 reasons to visit Isla Contoy in 2023

Are you still unsure about adding Isla Contoy to your Cancun itinerary? Consider this your invitation to add this stunning destination to your...

Leer más
10 fun facts you didn't know about the Whale Shark

6 min read

10 fun facts you didn't know about the Whale Shark

Are you a whale shark expert? Think again! Discover 10 mind-blowing facts about this shark of the sea that will make you go wow!

Leer más