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Asia Dive News : Thailand's reefs to get protection from starfish and tourists

Programs will be established in Thailand's southern and eastern provinces this year to promote public awareness of the need to protect the region's amazing coral reef ecosystems. Damage from tourism is a significant challenge being faced by reefs in these locations along with recent signs of crown-of-thorns infestations. Similar programs are being launched in 40 other countries to celebrate the International Year of the Reef 2008.

Wannakiat Thubthimsang, director of Phuket Marine Biological Centre (PMBC), which comes under the Marine and Coastal Resources Department, announced that the campaign will focus on provinces that are home to diverse coral reefs, such as Phuket, Satun and Chumphon.

A major event is planned in Phuket in early May when a report on the current state of Thai coral reefs will be released to the public as well. It's goal is to create public awareness about how sustainable management could limit the tourism industry's impact on fragile marine resources, Wannakiat explained.

Reefs in the Krabi province are facing a new danger from the growing population of crown-of-thorns starfish, a coral eater. These aggressive starfish are also feeding on coral in Phuket and Satun waters. A team of divers has been sent to collect the starfish from affected coral sites. The divers have removed over 240 crown-of-thorns in a two-rai area near Panva cape in Phuket and over 60 near Koh Similan off Krabi.

The crown-of-thorns starfish (Acanthaster planci) is a starfish with thorn-like spines sprouting all over its body for protection. They grow to a diameter of up to 40 cm across and have 12 to 19 arms extending from their center.

If accidentally touched or stepped on by humans, the starfish's long spines (which release a neurotoxin) are capable of pricking and stinging, inflicting great pain that can last for hours, as well as nausea and vomiting.

The starfish is a coral reef predator (a corallivore) and preys on the coral polyps by climbing onto them, extruding its stomach over them, and releasing digestive enzymes to then absorb the liquified tissue. They feed alone at night, maintaining a constant distance between themselves and other crown-of-thorns starfish. During times of food shortage, these creatures can live on their energy reserves for over six months.

Source: Bangkok Post