The Starfish Story  (Adapted from ‘The Star Thrower’ by Loren Eiseley 1907 – 1977)

This is probably my favourite story of all time. It has appeared all over the net in various forms. Sometimes it is a little girl throwing the starfish into the ocean, sometimes a young man. This is my favorite version. It shows how powerful a small action can be. But it also goes on to show how a small action can have wider effects…

One summer’s morning a little girl was walking on a long, winding beach. She came across a starfish that had been washed ashore and was now wriggling, and drying up in the hot sun. She reached down, gently picked up the starfish by one of its five points, and tossed it back to the sea. The little girl smiled and continued walking along the beach. But after a few steps, she found another starfish. It too was dying in the sun. No sooner had she tossed this one back when she came across another starfish, and then another one. Each time she found one, she picked it up and tossed it back to the sea.

She reached the top of a sand dune and came to a sudden stop. What she saw below startled and amazed her. Stretching out in front of her were hundreds upon hundreds, maybe even thousands, of dying starfish washed up on the beach. Suddenly, she exploded into action and began to toss as many starfish as possible, one by one, back to the sea.

She was so busy tossing back the starfish, that she never even noticed that a person had stopped to watch her. Soon a small crowd had gathered. Some started pointing at the little girl and laughing. “That little girl’s crazy,” said one. “I know,” said another, “doesn’t she know that every summer thousands of starfish get washed up on the beach and die? It’s just the way things are.” “There are so many starfish. She can’t possibly make any difference.”

The little girl was still too busy tossing back starfish to notice them. Finally, one man decided he had seen enough. He walked over to the little girl. “Little girl,” he said, “There are thousands of starfish washed up on the beach. You can’t possibly hope, to make any real difference. Why don’t you give up, and go play on the beach with the other children?” The little girl’s smile suddenly vanished. She noticed the crowd of people for the first time, and she realised they had been laughing at her. And now they had fallen silent, awaiting her answer to the man’s question.

She was hot. She was tired, and close to tears. She began to think that maybe he was right. Maybe they were all right. She had been tossing back starfish for what seemed like hours, and yet a carpet of starfish still covered the beach. How could she have possibly thought she could make a difference? Her arms fell limp at her sides, and the starfish she was holding fell back to the hot sand. She started to walk away.

Then suddenly she stopped, turned around, reached back down, and picked up the starfish she had dropped. She swung back her arm and tossed the starfish as far as she possibly could. When it landed with a plop, she turned to the man, and with a huge smile on her face she said, “I made a difference to that one!”