Hoshizuna-no-Hama: Japan’s amazing star sand beach

Hoshizuna-no-Hama, literally translate as “Sand in the Shape of a Star”, is a small but charming Japanese beach famous for its star-shaped tiny grains of sand.

Located on Irimote, the second-largest island in Okinawa prefecture, it doesn’t look too different than the hundreds of other beaches in the Japanese archipelago, at least at first glance, but a closer inspection reveals that many of the sand grains have a very curious shape: a five or six-tipped star.
Actually the stars are not grains of sand, but microscopic, now empty exoskeletons of Baculogypsina Sphaerulata, a type of unicellular organism belonging to the species of Foraminifera that once lived on the seabed. These extraordinary tiny creatures are one of the oldest fossils known to man. These star-shaped calcium carbonate shells were dragged ashore by ocean currents and then mixed with sand, creating this incredible wonder of nature that has become a main tourist attraction of the area.
Measuring only a few millimeters in size, they are really tough to notice at first, but as these tiny stars stick to your fingers and toes, you start to see that they look different than regular specks of sand.

Some people come to Hoshizuna-no-Hama specifically to hunt for star-shaped sand, which has prompted local authorities to forbid people from taking it home with them.
Moreover internet, and social media in particular, have boosted the popularity of the beach. This has proven both a blessing and a curse because, despite the obvious benefits to local businesses, the increase in tourists has accelerated the disappearance of star-shaped sand, as the ocean can’t seem to wash up enough of it fast enough to compete with people taking it home with them as souvenirs.

If scientists see the star-shaped sand as merely the exoskeletons of billions of foraminifers, some locals still believed in the local legend which claims that the sand grains are the tiny offspring of the Southern Cross and the North Star. They were born in the ocean just off Okinawa, but were killed by a giant serpent soon after, and their small skeletons are all that remains.

Images from web – Google Research

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