The present study investigated the fine-scale population genetic structure of sympatric asterinid sea stars with contrasting modes of larval development (benthic versus pelagic). Parvulastra exigua lacks a dispersive life phase yet is one of the worlds most widely distributed and abundant sea stars, whereas Meridiastra calcar, a sea star with a dispersive larva, has a more limited regional scale distribution. Populations of P. exigua sampled from tide pools on three adjacent headlands showed significant genetic substructure (mitochodrial DNA control region) at fine spatial scales (tide pools < 300 m apart: FST = 0.249, P < 0.01; headlands 5–15 km apart: FST = 0.125, P = 0.04). As expected, M. calcar populations sampled from the same headlands did not exhibit significant genetic structuring (FST = 0.029, P = 0.14). The life-history traits of P. exigua, a mixed mating system (selfing + outcrossing), pseudocopulation among closely-related conspecifics, and an entirely benthic life cycle with a philopatric larva, undoubtedly influence its strong genetic structure across fine spatial scales. Localized genetic structure, especially at the very fine-scale of tide pools, would not be detected in the more typical regional scale approaches adopted by most studies of marine invertebrate populations. © 2013 The Linnean Society of London, Biological Journal of the Linnean Society, 2013, ●●, ●●–●●.