Surigao divers worried over proliferation of starfish damaging coral reefs

SURIGAO CITY (MindaNews/28 March) – Divers here have been alarmed over the reported invasion of the poisonous crown-of-thorns starfish (Acanthaster planci) damaging coral reefs in the area’s diving sites.

Blaming climate change and over-collection of the pest starfish’s predators as culprit, Surigao Dive Club members are actively eliminating this kind of starfish.

Diver Louie Ng said he has seen many of the crown-of-thorns starfish in some diving spots in this city.

“We noticed they are growing in terms of numbers and they are not just a great threat to marine life but to the life cycle as a whole,” he said.

Ng said he is worried that if this marine creature will devour all the corals, Surigao fisherfolks who depend on their daily catch may eventually lose their livelihood.

Fellow diver Aris B. Servillas told MindaNews that they usually get to see this noxious starfish in parts of Punta Bilar and Basul Island.

Servillas lamented that aside from existing dynamite fishing in Basul Island, this creature greatly contributes to the destruction of the corals.

Dive master Johann Jake B. Miranda said they have removed over a thousand of the crown-of-thorns starfish since last year.

Meanwhile, Darwin Brain Lawas, project officer of Green Mindanao Association Inc., said the influx of this kind of starfish in coral reefs in some parts of the country like Surigao is blamed on climate change and the over harvesting of its natural prey, Triton’s trumpet (Charonia tritonis) shell.

Lawas said there are only two ways to stop the infestation – manual extraction of the starfish and underwater injection of sodium bisulfate to the pest.

He added that crown-of-thorns starfish eat the corals through sucking. A single starfish can eat five to six square meters of corals per year.

He a female crown-of-thorns starfish is capable of producing 60 million eggs per season. An adult starfish can grow from 9.8 to 14 inches, and can have up to 21 arms.

Lawas warned those who want to help in removing the starfish from corals because its long and sharp spines are venomous and could inflict painful wounds that are slow to heal.

Nerio Casil, regional director of the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR), said they will verify the divers’ report.

BFAR reported earlier this month that infestation has been noted in Southern Leyte towns like Padre Burgos, Macrohon and Maasin City, which is close to Surigao City. (Roel N. Catoto / MindaNews)