Starfish pay with their lives for a few photo-ops on Phu Quoc island

By Lan Huong   April 11, 2021 | 02:59 am PT
Tourists leaving red starfish to die on the sands after taking a few pictures on Phu Quoc, Vietnam's largest island, has triggered public outrage.

The expressions of outrage followed after a woman from Hanoi took photographs of dead, dry starfish in Rach Vem Village in Phu Quoc and shared them with a travel group on Facebook.

The post attracted swift condemnation for the wanton cruelty involved.

One of the photos of dead starfish that has made many people angry. Photo: NVCC

One of the photos of dead starfish that were shared on Facebook and have made many people angry.

The woman said she’d been to Rach Vem with her family so that her children could see starfish and other creatures "in the wild." A taxi driver took them to an area that abounds with the red starfish. She was dismayed to see many lying on the shore away from the ocean, curled up and blackened.

"I was angry on seeing this. Someone who probably wanted to have pictures of red starfish left them there to die. My family tried to save a couple that hadn’t curled up yet, but it was too late," she said.

She wrote in her post that she hoped local authorities and tourism managers would warn visitors not to disturb the starfish or any other marine creature. As the photo was shared with other travel groups, the anger mounted.

Hai Yen, administrator of a Phu Quoc travel group on Facebook with more than 1,400 members, said that after the photo appeared on the social network, people began to debate the issue.

She said she had informed that the group administrators never approved pictures of tourists holding starfish or being with starfish on sand.

Starfish appear in great numbers in Rach Vem between November and April. On hot days, they come closer to the shore, enabling visitors to take pictures. While it is okay for them to take pictures of the creatures in water, they should not be moved from their natural environment for any purpose, netizens said.

Alex Le, a tourist from Hanoi, said he’d visited Rach Vem in late March, but there were not many starfish near the shore. A driver suggested that he go to Ham Rong Cape. Here, Alex caught a fisherman loading starfish into a big bag. The fisherman said he was doing it so tourists could take pictures.

"Taking starfish ashore for pictures reflects very poor awareness. People have even explained that it is necessary to do it because starfish harm corals. This is a very harmful misunderstanding.

"In the Philippines, where I used to live, the starfish were photographed by many tourists, but they were never taken and lined up on the beach in such numbers," Le said.

Le Chien, head of Sasa Marine Life Rescue Center, said that catching, touching and holding starfish and other sea creatures were "extremely offensive" actions.

When people touch these marine creatures, bacteria and chemicals from sunscreen or soap on their hands can directly attack their soft tissue. Organisms that have never been exposed and do not possess immune systems to bacteria from humans will be severely affected, even if they may not die immediately.

In addition, starfish are only capable of withstanding exposure to the sun for a certain period of time, so taking them ashore is extremely dangerous to their health, he said.

Chien added that if the wrong starfish is touched, people could get burned, suffer shock and even death.

Starfish is a keystone species in the marine ecosystem. They are omnivores that feed mainly on molluscs, small fish, algae or organic residues.

There are more than 1,900 species of starfish around the world at various depth levels. They play a very important role in the organic circulation, sustaining the ecosystem in which they exist. The absence or degradation of starfish can lead to a collapse of the marine ecosystem, experts have warned.

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