KOTA KINABALU: Sabah Parks is hoping the crown-of-thorns starfish boom in waters off Semporna will not spread to the islands that it manages.
Its director Dr Jamili Nais said it is aware of the surge in numbers of the starfish, which consumes coral.
Divers have found that the areas affected so far are not within waters protected by Sabah Parks.
“We are keeping our fingers crossed that the creatures will not spread to our areas,” Dr Jamili said yesterday.
The marine parks under its care include Turtle Island, Tunku Abdul Rahman National Park and Pulau Tiga, Tun Sakaran Marine Park, Sipadan Island Park and Tun Mustapha Park.
The state parks contain important marine ecosystems and are big draws for divers and tourists.
“This is like an illness and we have these starfish affecting our islands once in a while but we have always taken immediate steps to stop their spread,” said Dr Jamili.
Coral reefs are one of the main attractions Sabah has to offer divers.
Dr Jamili said Sabah Parks would also help manage the problem in affected areas if it gets an official request.
Earlier this week, some divers noticed a sharp increase in starfish numbers at several coral reefs near Semporna, the gateway to the renowned diving haven of Pulau Sipadan and Tun Sakaran Marine Park.
Local divemaster Pius Angelo Mak said the divers are unsure of what they should do to tackle the problem.
He said a group of them started picking up the starfish about two weeks ago and drying them under the sun to kill them before casting the carcasses into the sea.
They are not sure if that is the right approach but “it seemed like the right thing to do”.
Researchers from Australia’s James Cook University found in 2015 that a single injection of white vinegar kills a crown-of-thorns starfish within 48 hours without harming surrounding marine life.
It is a much cheaper alternative to the previous lethal injection of bile salts and the researchers noted that starfish-eating animals appeared to savour these “pickled” carcasses.