Star Sand Shows Nature’s Exquisite Attention to Detail

CC BY 2.0. Psammophile

Japan’s handful of star sand beaches have sand like few other places in the world.

So much imagery comes to mind when considering beaches where the sand takes the shape of stars ... the potential for poetry is a bit unbridled. But perhaps the villagers residing on Japan’s Iriomote Island sum it up best. The star-shaped sands, legend has it, are the children of the North Star and Southern Cross. The descendents of the stars fell from the sky into the ocean of Okinawa, where they were killed by a sea serpent and remain as the beautiful star-shaped grains of sand scattered across the beach. The Japanese term for the sand is “Hoshizuna.”

Star sand shows nature’s exquisite attention to detail
Star sand shows nature’s exquisite attention to detail

However ... science has a different take; the tiny shells are the product of ocean-dwelling one-celled protozoa called Baclogypsina sphaerulata. Their exoskeletons have armlets to assist them in getting around and for storing food. When these little guys die, their shells remain in the sea and the tide washes them ashore. Three islands in Okinawa – Hatoma, Iriomote and Taketomi – have beaches which are the lucky recipients of this rare and stellar gift.

Star sand

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The star-shaped prizes are mingled in with more mundanely shaped grains of sand. After periods of storm and strong seas, the beach is even more abundant with the stars as they are loosened from the sea grass where they collect. Above is Hoshizuna-no-hama (star sand beach) on Iriomote island in Okinawa.

Star sand shows nature’s exquisite attention to detail

While it's no secret that sand comes in infinite shapes and sizes, that nature gives us sand shaped like stars feels a bit extra special. The universe at your fingertips with the sea at your feet? Heaven and Earth together at last.