Photoreception in echinoderms has been known for over 200 years, but their visual capabilities remain poorly understood. As has been reported for some asteroids, the crown-of-thorns starfish (Acanthaster planci) possess a seemingly advanced eye at the tip of each of its 7–23 arms. With such an array of eyes, the starfish can integrate a wide field of view of its surroundings. We hypothesise that, at close range, orientation and directional movements of the crown-of-thorns starfish are visually guided. In this study, the eyes and vision of A. planci were examined by means of light microscopy, electron microscopy, underwater goniometry, electroretinograms and behavioural experiments in the animals’ natural habitat. We found that only animals with intact vision could orient to a nearby coral reef, whereas blinded animals, with olfaction intact, walked in random directions. The eye had peak sensitivity in the blue part (470 nm) of the visual spectrum and a narrow, horizontal visual field of approximately 100° wide and 30° high. With approximately 250 ommatidia in each adult compound eye and average interommatidial angles of 8°, crown-of-thorns starfish have the highest spatial resolution of any starfish studied to date. In addition, they have the slowest vision of all animals examined thus far, with a flicker fusion frequency of only 0.6–0.7 Hz. This may be adaptive as fast vision is not required for the detection of stationary objects such as reefs. In short, the eyes seem optimised for detecting large, dark, stationary objects contrasted against an ocean blue background. Our results show that the visual sense of the crown-of-thorns starfish is much more elaborate than has been thus far appreciated and is essential for orientation and localisation of suitable habitats.