Comparing the stars in the sky to sand grains is a common way of visualizing the enormity of the universe. But at some unique beaches in Japan’s Okinawa prefecture, the sand grains really are stars.
Take a stroll along Hoshizuna no Hama (Star Sand Beach), located on Iriomote Island, enjoying your feet submerge in the sand. Look closely, and you’ll see that the sand on this beach is very special. Very special.
The tiny star-shaped grains of sand you’ll see on your feet are actually the pointy husks of millions of tiny Foraminifera, which are part of the same protist as amoeba. When Foraminifera die, the tide brings them ashore from coral reefs in the Western Pacific Ocean.
The Foraminifera phylum includes some 10,000 species that create shells of various designs. Star-shaped shells, such as the kind created by the Baculogypsina sphaerulata species shown here, are very rare.
In fact, only a few islands in Japan’s Okinawa prefecture are known to have them.
Not all sandy beaches at Okinawa have the star sand though. The most famous spots include Kaiji beach on Taketomi Island and Star Sand Beach on Iriomote Island, as well as Tokashiki Island’s Aharen Beach.
The star sand can also be found all over Hatoma Island, and the more isolated islands are also good places to find it.
With its cute shape, the star sand can bring joy to all who find it, but in recent years it has decreased and some beaches have even banned visitors from taking it home with them.
So, before taking any home, confirm whether or not it is allowed at the given beach, to help protect the star sand for future generations to enjoy.