With less than twenty years of unabated development, has the complex marine environment of Starfish Beach in Bocas del Toro been devastated? Maybe it is time to visit sooner, rather than later if this wonderland is on your bucket list of tropical beach spots to see. The diverse ecosystem of reef, mangroves and seagrass located here in the Archipelago of Bocas del Toro in Panama took millions of years to develop. In a flash, it is in jeopardy.
Other than occasionally in November and December, the waters here are extremely calm and glassy due to the location. In these winter months, a swell comes from the north. The usually calm and crystal clear waters attract visitors now that word has gotten out. Not too long ago, there was nothing here on this stretch of Panamanian beach paradise. Starfish Beach is easily one of the best beaches in Boca del Toros and all of Panama, really.
The same waters that tourists find so appealing are also what starfish need to thrive. This beach spot came to prominence and also became famous for the number of starfish. Not so many years ago, it would have been expected to come across hundreds on the beach. Of course, Playa Estrella or Starfish Beach is still incredibly gorgeous and will remain a must-see exotic beach.
When the tourists arrived, the cushion sea stars started to disappear. Today fewer than two-dozen starfish can be found in the area.
Located on the north west bit of Colon Island, Starfish beach can be accessed via a half hour bus from Bocas Town. Traveling by boat from Starfish Beach, one can find their way “back to town” in twenty minutes. Most of the Bird Island tours stop at here if you want to try and kill two birds with one stone.
Because of the increasing disturbance from humans, the cushion sea star aka starfish, decided to leave its namesake beach behind according to ITEC researchers. These little creatures are quite sensitive to vibrations in the water. Unfortunately, turbidity was created by this horde of tourists. Some of the more clueless visitors were picking up the hapless sea stars out of the water. In this care, the starfish would eventually float to the top of the water because air would have entered into the marine invertebrates body. People on vacation being well people on vacation were also making a lot of noise partying and with boats. This shook up the starfish and their delicate marine ecosystem.
These actions were interpreted by the starfish as a threat. Hence they moved downhill into deeper waters away from their tradition spots in Starfish Beach.
The herd of tourists, from the perspective of the sea star, was an invasive species.
Forgetting any ecological concerns…
Starfish beach can be found on the wild and remote side of Isla Colón. This is the Caribbean side of Panama, of course. It is a fairly unique place, especially for how pleasing it is to the senses. The water is nearly perfect, because it doesn’t have a swell except for briefly during winter. The overall feel here is pretty chill, as is to be expected in such a distant beach location. You can drink, play in the sand, dive, snorkel, sail etc to your hearts content. Its a fun spot. Its not as refined as a trip to Coki beach in the Virgin Islands, but a lot if not more fun. It might be a little harder to get to.
I need to say Hey to my friend Jonny for the pictures. Always a good man. I had the pleasure of working with him a few continents and decades ago. Since then, he has also been bouncing around the world and can be found in Bali these days.