30 October 2022

The rare starfish

Written by: Kathya Argueta

Throughout my internship with USFWS, I had the opportunity to work on behalf of beachCOMBERS. BeachCOMBERS is a non-profit citizen science program. This citizen science program consists of volunteers being assigned different beaches in which they go survey at the beginning of each month. The surveying process consists of a pair of volunteers walking up a predetermined segment, looking side to side for any marine bird and mammal carcasses. Once they find carcasses they input this information into an online database called Survey123. 

Although the purpose of beachCOMBERS is to focus on finding marine bird and mammal carcasses, many times we encounter other organisms out there. On my very first beachCOMBERS survey, I encountered some starfish that were propped up on some rocks. At first, I had missed them because of all the mussels and other critters that were stuck on the rock, but when I got closer and looked I saw that there were a few starfish. I was super excited when I saw them because there are not many starfish left in southern California due to sewage related aquatic diseases like the "starfish wasting syndrom".I am originally from San Diego, so growing up I never saw many starfish unless it was at an aquarium therefore, when I was surveying in Ventura, I was beyond excited to see them! 

I immediately called over my survey partner and showed them the starfish. My partner was also excited due to only seeing smaller starfish growing up and in an aquarium, just like how I had. I remember that my initial response though was to pick them up to see how heavy they were since they were so big. However, in school I’ve learned that handling wildlife can actually be dangerous because not only might we get harmed if we don’t know how to handle the animal, but also because we can have chemical residue from lotions or other products on our hands and therefore we can end up harming the organism a lot more what we think. Therefore, it was interesting to see how my inner younger self just wanted to touch the beautiful starfish, but my older and much more educated self knew it wasn’t right. Although I did not end up touching the beautiful starfish, I still had a great time surveying and collecting data for beachCOMBERS.

Agency: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Program: US Fish & Wildlife Service

Location: Ventura Fish and Wildlife Office

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