Divers fight Mabul seastar infestation


Underwater mission: Divers collecting a crown-of-thorns seastars on the Mabul coral reef. There has been a bloom of the thorny starfish (below) in the thousands, and it is threatening the survival of the reef.

Underwater mission: Divers collecting a crown-of-thorns seastars on the Mabul coral reef. There has been a bloom of the thorny starfish (below) in the thousands, and it is threatening the survival of the reef.

PETALING JAYA: An infestation of coral-eating crown-of-thorns seastars in Mabul has got the diving community scrambling to save the corals.

Several dive operators such as Scuba Junkie SEAS and Reef Check Malaysia, and the Sabah Tourism Board are among those involved in an exercise to remove the seastars, which are the largest tropical starfish.

Within three days, they managed to remove over 3,000 seastars.

Reef Check programme manager Nadhirah Mohd Rifai said the number of crown-of-thorns seastars was large enough to threaten the corals in Mabul, a diving haven off the south-eastern coast of Sabah.

“It is normal for the seastars to be around coral reefs as they feed on fast growing coral, giving slow-growing corals a chance to survive, and it’s normal to have two or three in a reef.

“There are now thousands of them on the Mabul reef and they are actively feeding on the hard coral polyps, which is a big problem.

“We have seen white and dead corals already,” she said.

Nadhirah said the clean-up would continue throughout the week as another hotspot of the seastar infestation had been detected.

She said the seastars infestation could have occurred due to climate change, poor water quality and lack of natural predators.

The venomous nature of the seastars also made it important for its disposal to be handled carefully.

“The seastars have to be buried after removal due to their sharp, venomous spines.

“We have to thank the Semporna district council for helping us dispose the seastars that we removed from the reefs,” she said.

She said this was likely the first time that an outbreak of crown-of-thorns seastars happened in Mabul, and credited Scuba Junkie SEAS for exposing the infestation.