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Asia Dive News : Predator starfish threaten coral reefs in the Philippines

Manila, the Philippines – An infestation of predator starfish is decimating large tracts of coral reef throughout the Philippines.

The spiny and toxic crown-of-thorns starfish are voracious predators that can wipe out large areas of coral; an individual can consume up to 6 square metres of living reef per year. Outbreaks of the species often occur when ocean temperatures and nutrient levels increase.

Unfortunately, some of the starfish's major predators, such as humphead wrasse and giant triton, which usually keep the species in check have declined in recent years as a result of overfishing.

“We are experiencing a return of the starfish in greater numbers,” said WWF-Philippines CEO Lory Tan. “The situation facing our reefs is far from normal.”

The Philippines once boasted 25,000km 2 of coral reef. However, a recent World Bank study shows that barely 1 per cent of this area remains pristine, and more than 50 per cent are reported to be in decline or unhealthy.

To combat the outbreak, WWF-Philippines is enlisting the help of beachgoers to reduce the number of starfish in an infested area. The most recent action netted hundreds from the world-class diving site of Apo Reef off the west coast of the island of Mindoro, about 100km south of the capital, Manila.

“In the long term, the best response to the situation is by putting a stop to overfishing and agricultural runoff, and to better manage sewage,” Tan adds. “It's important to keep our oceans clean and our reefs well balanced.”

Source: WWF