Starfish at centre of ecological storm

Attendees at the International Scuba
Diving Hall of Fame Induction ceremony were surprised to see dead starfish as a
central part of the table settings.

A number of guests were shocked
enough to remove the marine animals from the tables, feeling that their
inclusion was sending out the wrong message to the diving community, known as
being some of the most eco-friendly people on the planet.


However, the starfish were bought
from a company that uses reputable and sustainable sources, according to
Jo-Anne Brown of Celebrations, the company that dressed the tables.

“They’re not just bought from any
company that goes out and kills starfish. That’s absolutely not the case.
Holiday Souvenirs, who I buy from, is very strongly government-regulated.

“They are actually environmentalists
as well and are very particular about the fact that what they do bring in are
properly harvested and replenished. I source our supplies only from this
company because they give me the guarantee that these things are not harvested
crazily with no thought of the ecological effects,” said Ms Brown.


The Celebrations boss noted that
she made sure that they purchased their goods from responsible providers, and explained
that most of the starfish were ceramic, but those that weren’t were already
dead when they were taken from the water by Holiday Souvenirs.

“When starfish multiply they lay on
top of each other and if they don’t get enough sun they die. The company then
takes the bottom starfish. They are very stringent about how they get them.

“Sea fans, sponges and everything
else we might use is all stuff that washes up here on the beaches. There’s
nothing that we dive and take up – we would never do that, it’s too precious,”
concluded Ms Brown.


Although campaigners in Cayman
accept that Celebrations were acting in good faith in their belief that the
company selling them was ecologically responsible, they say that there are
other items that Holiday Souvenirs sell that are ‘suspicious’.

Cathy Church was inducted into the
International Scuba Diving Hall of Fame in 2008 and told the Caymanian Compass
that she was not criticising Celebrations, who she said had been misled.

Ms Church
explained that she had reviewed the Holiday Souvenirs website where she found
other items for sale that could not be sold in any significant quantity without
their harvesting having caused severe ecological damage.

“[One item for sale is] large brain
corals that were collected alive. If they had been rolled up onto a beach they
would have shown considerable damage.

“There were also Trident’s Trumpet
snail shells which are quite illegal to traffic in some countries as they eat,
and therefore control the numbers of, the crown of thorns starfish which can
eat and destroy entire reefs where the trumpet shells are removed,” said Ms


She explained that she was unaware
of any commercial farms that raised Trident’s Trumpets in order to harvest
their shells and explained that the shells would rarely, if ever, wash up on
the beach.

“When they die, the shells become
valuable homes to hermit crabs, which often struggle to find whole shells in areas
where shells are heavily collected,” said Ms Church.


The diver and well-known
photographer explained that she was therefore suspicious that the starfish had
been collected in an environmental way.

“Anything that we can do to reduce
the destruction of valuable sea life that have no other purpose but decoration
would help the world’s oceans to support more fish for food.

“These sea creatures – shells, starfish,
everything – help to create the environment to support a whole reef, including
species important for the food that we eat,” concluded Ms Church


The starfish at the centre of the controversy.
Joe Shooman

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