Starfish outbreak threatens Earths richest center of coral reef biodiversity

January 15th, 2008 - 2:18 pm ICT by admin  

Washington, Jan 15 (ANI): Recent surveys have indicated that an outbreak of starfish in a region in Indonesia, are threatening the coral triangle which is the richest center of coral reef biodiversity on Earth, lying between Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands.

The starfish is a predator that feeds on corals by spreading its stomach over them and using digestive enzymes to liquefy tissue .

The surveys, conducted by the Bronx Zoo-based Wildlife Conservation Society and ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies, have found these crown of thorns starfish in Halmahera, Indonesia, which is at the heart of the coral triangle.

The perils of an outbreak of starfish is more since the coral triangle is considered the genetic fountainhead for coral diversity found on Australias Great Barrier Reef, Ningaloo and other reefs in the region.

The impact of the increase in the numbers of the starfish is already visible as recent surveys have confirmed that while Halmaheras reefs are still 30-50 percent richer than nearby reefs, some areas were almost completely destroyed.

The main cause of damage to the corals was the Crown of Thorns Starfish, said Dr. Andrew Baird of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies and James Cook University.

Because there is little to suggest that the reefs have been much affected by climate change as yet, the threat appears to be localized, which points towards a number of active outbreaks of the starfish as the main cause.

According to scientists, the outbreak might be caused by poor water quality and could be an early warning of widespread reef decline.

But, according to researchers, there were still healthy populations of certain species of corals and still time to reverse the damage.

The good news is that the reef fish assemblages are still in very good shape said Tasrif Kartawijaya from WCS-IP. We saw Napoleon wrasse and bumphead parrot fish at almost every site. So these reefs have the capacity to recover if we can address the current threats, he added.

It isnt enough just to document the diversity of the region. Large scale research is required to understand the Coral Triangle ecosystems and work out how best to respond to threats such as poor water quality and overexploitation, said Dr Stuart Campbell, Program Leader for the Wildlife Conservation Societys Marine Program in Indonesia.
A positive enterprise in this regard is t he Coral Triangle Initiative (CTI) announced by six regional governments at the Bali Climate Change Conference recently, which offers hope for the reefs in the region. (ANI)

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