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Starfish outbreak threatens corals
Date:1/14/2008

NEW YORK (January 14, 2008) Outbreaks of the notorious crown of thorns starfish now threaten the coral triangle, the richest center of coral reef biodiversity on Earth, according to recent surveys by the Bronx Zoo-based Wildlife Conservation Society and ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies.

The starfish a predator that feeds on corals by spreading its stomach over them and using digestive enzymes to liquefy tissue were discovered in large numbers by the researchers in reefs in Halmahera, Indonesia, at the heart of the Coral Triangle, which lies between Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands. It is considered the genetic fountainhead for coral diversity found on Australias Great Barrier Reef, Ningaloo and other reefs in the region.

Scientists fear the outbreak is caused by poor water quality and could be an early warning of widespread reef decline.

Recent surveys of Halmahera by the Wildlife Conservation Society and ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies 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, Dr. Andrew Baird of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies and James Cook University. We witnessed a number of active outbreaks of this coral predator. There was little to suggest that the reefs have been much affected by climate change as yet: the threats appear far more localized.

The team also saw first-hand evidence of recent blast-fishing, an extremely destructive fishing practice that uses explosives. According to locals this accompanied a break down of law and order following communal violence in 2000-2003. During the same time many reef lagoons were mined of their corals for use in construction, an activity encouraged by the Indonesian military.

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Contact: Stephen Sautner
ssautner@wcs.org
718-220-3682
Wildlife Conservation Society
Source:Eurekalert  

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Starfish outbreak threatens corals
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