Asia Dive News : Divers help reduce starfish threat to Philippine coral reefs
MABINI, BATANGAS – Coral reefs off this town have been spared, albeit temporarily, from yet another ecological threat by the predatory Crown of Thorns starfish (COTs), thanks to clean-up operations by a group of divers.
At least 40 volunteer divers, boatmen, Bantay Dagat members and municipal officials joined the Feb. 6 activity organized by the Mabini Tourism Office. The campaign aims to reduce and control COT outbreak or infestation in the dive sites.
"Crowns of Thorns are eating the corals, which are the ones being visited by divers," said Mabini administrative officer Omar Evangelista.
Mabini, a third-class municipality (annual income: P30 million-P40 million) has 15 dive spots that offer coral reefs as main attractions. It has 19 coastal villages and 48 mostly dive resorts, which often employ residents.
At least 700 divers arrive weekly to see the reefs, according to tourism officer Michelle Magmanlac.
The volunteer divers swept marine sanctuaries, such as Arthur's Rock, Eagle Point, Koala and Cathedral in Barangay Balangit, and retrieved at least 10 sacks of COTs. They used tongs to hold the naturally poisonous starfish and brought them to the beach where they would rot.
Crown of Thorns adults have 16-18 arms with poisonous spines, said the Mabini Tourism Office. They feed on the coral species Acropora and their polyps.
Mabini is part of the Verde Island Passage, home to at least 1,736 marine species - the largest in terms of density in the world.
Evangelista said the level of COT infestation "has not reached an alarming stage." When it does, "we would no longer see alive corals in the sea," he said.
Since the starfish lay millions of eggs and could regenerate, Evangelista said it would be proper to "prevent them from growing this early."
The COTs could kill not only the entire coral reef but Mabini's diving industry as well, Evangelista said.
A single starfish can consume six meters of healthy reef yearly and a serious infestation can ruin entire sections of coral reef in weeks, according to the World Wide Fund for Nature.
It takes 20 to 30 years for a coral to grow, dive shop owner and instructor Kiko Quinto said.
Last year, the WWF reported COT infestations in the reefs of Mabini; Apo Reef and Puerto Galera in Mindoro; Roxas in Palawan; Bolinao in Lingayen Gulf, and many other coastal areas in the Philippines.