Students: Don’t lift starfish out of water

Science teacher Mariska De Klerk explains the anatomy of the starfish to her students.

The message from 7th graders at Cayman International School is clear, but simple – don’t lift starfish out of the water.

In an effort to educate people on how to properly handle starfish, students of the school’s Starfish Protection Squad are reaching out to tour operators and landowners and creating posters and a film.

While exploring the biology, habitat and behavior of starfish in their “Ecology and the Environment” science unit, 7th graders showed special interest in the echinoderm, and science teacher Mariska De Klerk identified their interest as a project-based learning opportunity.

The class was tasked with finding ways to communicate the basic principles of handling a starfish to the public. Having studied the ways in which tourism has impacted the starfish, also known as the sea star, over the years, students visited Starfish Point and observed how people interacted with the creatures.

Having raised concerns over the current information signs, which were not visible enough, and their lack of disclosure regarding the effects of lifting a starfish out of water, students then came up with three methods to better inform the public.

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They wrote letters to tour guides operating around Starfish Point and Stingray City, requesting them to pass on responsible starfish handling techniques to their customers.

The Starfish Protection Squad on their field trip at Starfish Point.
The Starfish Protection Squad on their field trip at Starfish Point.

Students also designed posters to communicate that people should avoid taking starfish out of water due to the threat of irreversible tissue damage it poses (even for a few seconds out of water), and that people with sunscreen on their hands should avoid touching the animals as it is toxic to them.

Providing that these suggestions are followed, the students say photos can still be taken with the animals, while ensuring their safety.

The proceeds from bake sales and a raffle were used by the Starfish Protection Squad to create and place posters around the island in locations where people frequently encounter starfish. Students also reached out to various landowners for their permission to place conservation signs near the water for visibility.

On the opening day of Pixar’s “Finding Dory” at Camana Bay, students got to screen their short film during previews.

“Grade 7 has truly been an inspiration with the passion and dedication they have displayed through the course of this conservation project,” said Ms. De Klerk.

“I am extremely proud of them and join them in inviting all of Cayman to support us in our efforts to keep the Cayman Red Cushion Sea Star safe, not only for the sake of conservation but also for the sake of tourism.”

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