A large amount of starfish were recently discovered in the reefs in Halmahera, Indonesia, at the very center point of the Coral Triangle. Starfish, who latch onto coral and use their digestive enzymes to break down at it, could become a real threat to the natural beauty of the sea. Scientists are even predicting the outbreak to be linked to poor water quality and see a possibility for widespread and further damage to the reefs.
And while Halmahera’s reefs are still richer than surrounding areas, nearby reefs were left nearly obliterated. Researchers confirm that the main threat is indeed starfish. The Crown of Thorns Starfish in particular has been noted to swarm over the reefs like a plague. Climate change has nothing to do with the damage imposed, researchers say. The outbreaks of starfish are an imminent threat to the Coral Triangle, and other reefs of the ocean.
Many other areas, Puerto Galera in Mindoro for one, have been struck by the Thorn of Crown starfish swarms. The reach of the starfish is so wide-spread that researchers are having difficulty presuming just where they’re headed or which reefs have already been cursed by their course.
The Philippines have been experiencing similar troubles. Their coral reefs are held in siege by the Predator starfish. Like any other starfish, they throw their bodies over the coral during which their stomachs, incorporating the harmful digestive enzymes, eat away at the fleshy polyp layer covering the rather delicate coral. Outbreaks usually occur when climate and nutrient levels are at their best. In groups, the starfish are capable of bringing down entire coral reefs. Individually, one can devour 6 square meters of reef per year!
While the starfish have flourished, their main predators, including the humphead wrasse and giant triton, have declined in number due to overfishing, giving leave to the starfish outbreaks. Researchers admit that the recent starfish nuisance is far from normal.
A recent study shows that only 1% of the Philippines’ previously lush reefs remain untouched and pristine. The other 99% show signs of decay and, in some parts, overall destruction. The reefs’ health is waning.
Beachgoers and scuba teams are being enlisted to help fight the outbreaks. Many starfish are being netted away from the coral reefs. This could prove hazardous because while the starfish are certainly harmful to the coral, they’re also capable of delivering sever stings to humans that promote pain and nausea, typically lasting for a day or more.
Overfishing remains a problem and many of the world’s reefs lay in jeopardy. If only the ocean could be kept clean and the fish population kept in check, a decline of starfish population would be imminent. Scientists stay true to their belief that the overpopulation could be stemmed. Even now, they’re promoting newer ways to help keep our oceans sanitary and the sea life population at a balance.