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Starfish strike at coral kingdom
Date:1/16/2008

Outbreaks of the notorious crown of thorns starfish now threaten the coral triangle the richest center of coral reef biodiversity on Earth.

Thats the finding of recent scientific surveys by the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies and the Wildlife Conservation Society based at the Bronz Zoo, USA.

The starfish a predator that feeds on corals by spreading its stomach over them using digestive enzymes to liquefy tissue was discovered in large numbers by the researchers on reefs in Halmahera, Indonesia, at the heart of the Coral Triangle, which lies between Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Papua New Guinea, Palau and the Solomon Islands.

The Coral Triangle is considered the genetic fountainhead for many corals found on Australias Great Barrier Reef, Ningaloo and other reefs in the region.

The surveys confirmed that while Halmaheras reefs are still 30-50 percent richer than nearby reefs, some areas were almost completely destroyed.

The heart of the Coral Triangle is broken, says Tasrif Katawijaya from the Wildlife Conservation Societys Marine Program in Indonesia (WCS-IP).

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

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 which, according to locals, accompanied the break down of law and order following communal violence in Halmahera between 2000-2003. At the same time many reef lagoons have been mined of their corals for use in construction.

This is clearly a complex hum
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Contact: Andrew Baird
andrew.baird@jcu.edu.au
61-040-028-9770
ARC Centre of Excellence in Coral Reef Studies
Source:Eurekalert

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