Objectives Based on previous screening results, the cytotoxic effect of the hexane (JDH) and ethyl acetate extracts (JDE) of the marine sponge Jaspis diastra were evaluated on HeLa cells and the present study aimed at determining their possible mechanism of cell death. Methods Nuclear staining, membrane potential change, flow cytometry analysis of cell cycle distribution and annexin V staining were undertaken to investigate the effects of JDE and JDH. Electrospray ionization mass spectrometry (ESI-MS) and nuclear magnetic resonance were used to characterize an isolated bioactive molecule. Key findings JDE displayed an IC50 25 times more significant than the JDH. Flow cytometry analysis revealed JDE induced apoptosis in HeLa cells accompanied by the collapse of mitochondrial membrane potential. Fractionation of JDE resulted in the isolation of the known cytotoxic cyclodepsipeptide, Jaspamide. Conclusions Taking our results together suggest that JDE can be valuable for the development of anticancer drugs, especially for cervical cancer. Further investigations are currently in progress with the aim to determine and isolate other bioactive compounds from this extract.