Introduction: How to Find Starfish in Florida

Picture of How to Find Starfish in Florida

Hi Everyone, I'm Jeremy Hoffpauir.

My family and I enjoy spending time at the beach. We take lots of pictures while we are at the beach and share them with friends and family. We are often asked how to find starfish in Florida as many of our best pictures are of starfish and sand dollars.

My family and I find starfish (sometimes called Sea Stars) by way of snorkeling in Destin, Florida. If you are interested in how to find starfish in Florida without snorkeling, you should stop reading this article. Please accept my apology if this comment offended you. I prefer people to not waste my time; therefore, I work hard to not waste yours.

In this article, I show you how to find starfish and the reasons starfish are fascinating creatures. I review the essential snorkel gear I recommend to make the most of your time on the water. I also review the best time and place to increase your chances to find starfish. Additionally, I explain how to find sand dollars and the other wildlife you may encounter while snorkeling.

Step 1: Choose the Best Location

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The best place to find starfish is snorkeling at the beach. My family and I spend a lot of time in Destin, Florida and find starfish quite often.

Starfish do like rocky areas because they use the rocks to hide from predators and catch creatures on the bottom. The only rocks in Destin, Florida can be found on the west and east jetties.


The best strategy to find any organism is to learn the behaviors of their food source. Starfish are carnivores and feed on crustaceans and mollusks, so find their food to find them.

If snorkeling is not an option for you, I’ve heard of people finding starfish on the beach. Low tide is the best time to find starfish that get stranded from the receding water from high tide.

Step 2: Learn to Spot Starfish

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Finding starfish takes practice on sandy beaches. Starfish normally sit on top of the sand in deep waters and just below the sand in shallow waters. They are difficult to spot below the sand, but you get the hang of it after you find a few.

Try and spot the starfish in these pictures.

The same two pictures are below with red arrows point to the location of the starfish.

The starfish in the pictures above are not difficult to spot. They are not visible at all most of the time and the only way to find them is to spot their outline.


Once you spot the starfish, dive down and grab them.

While it is legal at most beaches to collect dead starfish, it is illegal at some beaches to collect live starfish and other sea creatures. I encourage you to know the laws before you start collecting starfish.


My family and I keep dead starfish we find. We bring up the live ones for a few pictures and then put them back where we found them. The dead starfish are easy to spot because they are normally upside down or they lost their coloring. Starfish are not always dead just because they are missing a limb – more on this later in the article. Below are a few pictures of dead starfish.

Step 3: Identify Starfish

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Before you decide to grab a starfish, be sure you know what type you are grabbing. Some starfish are poisonous and others are protected by the Wildlife and Fisheries (like the Bahama/Cushion Sea Star).

The two types of starfish I have found at the beach in Destin, Florida are the Royal Starfish (Sea Star) and the Two-Spined Starfish (Sea Star). The Royal Starfish are pictured in this article.

Step 4: Starfish Fun Facts

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Starfish are not only beautiful, but they are also unique and fascinating creatures.

There are over 2,000 species of starfish. While most starfish have 5 limbs, there are some species with many more limbs. They can rejuvenate a lost limb, but it can take up to a year.

Starfish have tiny suctions cups on each limb that are referred to as feet. Each limb can contain up to 15,000 feet that move in caterpillar-like synchronization. Their feet can form a glue that will bond indefinitely with a rock or prey item, with an adjacent tube releasing a solvent to release the bond once the starfish is ready to move on.

Some starfish in the Pacific Northwest can measure one meter across and weigh up to 11 pounds.

Starfish have no brain and no blood. They use filtered sea water to pump nutrients through their nervous system. Starfish have eyes located at the end of each limb, but scientists are baffled as to how they can see without a brain.

Starfish are carnivores and feed on mollusks and crustaceans as I mentioned earlier. Starfish also will become cannibals if their food supply diminishes. When starfish capture prey, they use tiny suction cups to grab their food. Their stomach exits their mouth to digest the food, and reenters the body afterwards.

Starfish are not fish. Rather, they are related to sand dollars and sea urchins. They thrive in warmer climates and some species live in colder climates as well. Starfish can only live in salt water.

Starfish live a long life. Some species can live up to 35 years. They can also switch their gender at will depending on various conditions. The cushion starfish are always born as male and switch to female later in life.

Step 5: How to Find Sand Dollars

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Sand Dollars (sea biscuits) are plentiful at the beach if you know where to find them. They are plentiful on the second sand bar, which is roughly 50 – 75 yards from the edge of the water. You can also find them closer to shore, but they are not as plentiful. Most beaches allow you to keep a certain quantity per day per person as long as you have a valid fishing license.

It is important to put them in a mixture of 1 part water and 1 part bleach if you decide to keep them. Otherwise, they will smell really bad.

Sand Dollars are not hard to find as they tend to be visible on the ocean bottom. There are times when they bury just below the sand, so keep an eye out for their outline. If you think you see a sand dollar below the sand, dive down and stir up the sand to make sure before you grab it.

Step 6: Swim With Redfish

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I was raised fishing the brackish waters of south Louisiana for redfish, speckled trout, flounder, and other species. There are many redfish patrolling the beach close to the shore. I managed to get fairly close to them before they felt threatened.

Step 7: Encounter Stingrays

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Another interesting creature you may encounter at the beach are stingrays. Most people are afraid of stingrays, but they are very docile creatures until you step on one the wrong way. Stingrays can hide very well in the sand because they are a common prey for sharks.

Step 8: Shells and Fish

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There are plenty of tropical fish and shells at the beach for you to encounter while snorkeling.

Most of the cool shells are on the shore, but there are some in deeper waters with live creatures in them. Some fish tend to follow you around while you swim looking for food. If you drop a shell or sand dollar, they will swarm around it.

Gulf Sand Flounders are fun to find because they are well camouflaged. They blend with the sand so well that you won’t notice them until they move.

Step 9: Great Family Activity

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There are very few activities for the whole family as enjoyable as snorkeling. Snorkeling is also a great full body workout, which is an added bonus for Stacey and me.

My family and I have been snorkeling since we became a family. Even when our kids were very young and unable to swim, they were snorkeling with floats while on our back. Our kids are now pros at snorkeling and can navigate through the waters better than Stacey and I at times.

While snorkeling is fun for the whole family, it is important to have snorkel gear that is comfortable and functional. I have links below to the gear that we use, so be sure to check those out. Another important thing to have while snorkeling in the ocean is a raft. A raft can be the central point for your family to snorkel from and it can also store items you don’t need the entire time such as flippers. We use the raft in the picture below, but any raft will work fine.

Step 10: Essential Snorkel Gear

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The essential snorkel gear is very important to make your time on the water more enjoyable, comfortable, and productive. Your chances at finding starfish greatly decrease if you you spend time adjusting & fixing your snorkel gear.

Tourists tend to purchase snorkel gear from the Souvenir shops that occupy every other block of a beach community. These shops are ‘tourist traps’ in my opinion. The quality of their snorkel gear is not good or the snorkel gear is severely over-priced.

I’ve been snorkeling since I began swimming at a very young age. I’ve owned many different snorkel masks, snorkels, and fins over the years. Trust me, spend the extra few dollars and buy a decent mask, snorkel, and fins. Even if you only snorkel once per year, the quality snorkel gear is worth it. I’ve listed the essential snorkel gear I recommend & currently use below.

Step 11: Essential Camera Gear

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Obviously, I love videography and filming as most of my blogs compliment my YouTube videos. It is so awesome to capture special moments to experience over and over again.

If you would like to capture those special moments as well, I recommend and use the following gear.

Step 12: Final Thoughts

Be sure to watch the video above.

I hope this information inspires you to get out on the water and have fun! To see more ocean wildlife such as sea turtles and sharks, check out this post. For more snorkeling and family fun, check out our Disney Cruise adventure.

I hope this project provided you with some value because this is, and always will be, my ultimate goal.

Please consider subscribing to my YouTube channel and visiting my website for more projects and other fun stuff.

Feel free to contact me anytime if you have any questions. I'm happy to help!

Until next time – Imagine…Create…Share

Comments

Arandall86 (author)2017-07-25

Very cool instructable. I live very close to Destin in Perdido Key and love going to three beach and seeing the different sea life. I'm curious as to how you use the items you collect; do you display them as is or do you create anything with them? I see vey nice display pieces in my head. Many thanks for the cool adventure idea. Keep up the sea love.

jeremyhoffpauir made it! (author)Arandall862017-07-25

Thank you for taking the time to view the instructable. I'm happy you liked it. ;)

We only keep the sand dollars and starfish that are not living, but we do make some cool stuff from the ones we do keep. Here is one example:

gm280 (author)2017-07-24

Did you release them back to the water or what? I mean everybody enjoys star fish and sand dollars, but after a while what are they good for. So I could see finding them to look at and then simply letting them go back to the homes again.

jeremyhoffpauir (author)gm2802017-07-24

Yes, we scoop them up, snap a few photos, and put them back where we found them. My family and I love the ocean and respect all the wildlife a great deal. We only keep the starfish and sand dollars we find that are not living. I mention this at the end of step 2.

Thank you for taking the time to ask that question because I would ask the same question if I were reading this instructable. :)

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Bio: Hi Everyone, I'm Jeremy Hoffpauir. I love creating cool things. I love making old things look cool, I love making new things look old ... More »
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