Okinawa Prefecture is well-known for its gorgeous beaches. On the northern tip of an island called Taketomi-jima is a small beach called Hoshizuna-no-Hama, which is literally translated as ‘Star Sand Beach’. If you happen to look closely at the sand on this beach, you will see that the sand is actually comprised of the special shapes of tiny stars, which is very rare to find in any other part of Japan.
The tiny star-shaped grains are not really sand but exoskeletons of tiny protists called Baclogypsina sphaerulata. They live in the sea grass at the bottom of the sea and belong to the family of Calcalinidae. They measure just barely a millimetre across, which makes them look really tiny. The exoskeletons make them look like stars with their 5 or 6 pointed spines. These allow them to move from one place to another and also serve as storage of diatoms, a major group of algae, which is the food they survive on.
When these protists die, they leave their exoskeletons behind. These wash up on beach in a large number and form the star-shaped sands.
If you want to find a lot of these star creatures and their exoskeletons, it is best to see them pile up after a typhoon. They will have been loosened up from the seabed, and the massive waves caused by strong winds wash them ashore. But if you’re at the nearby Iriomote Island, the second largest island in Okinawa, you can definitely find them everywhere. Look closely and carefully in shallow waters as there are so many of them thriving at this part of the beach. They use the sea algae to try and anchor themselves.
A local legend has it that these tiny star creatures are the offspring of the North Star and Southern Cross. It was said that their children were born in the sea of Okinawa, but a serpent swallowed them all leaving only their skeletons behind. These skeletons on the ocean and they soon reached the shores of Taketomi-jima.
This Star Sand Beach in Okinawa is a definite destination if you literally want to get star-struck (but be aware of the fact that this is not a beach good for swimming). Enjoy the starry beach full of life! You can click here for more information about this fascinating beach.