The Khaled bin Sultan Living Oceans Foundation formed a novel partnership with resorts and recreational divers to protect reefs in the Maldives from destructive starfish. In 2015, the Foundation worked in the Maldives to combat an outbreak of Crown of Thorns Starfish (COTS) and invited certified SCUBA divers to participate in the project and help us remove these voracious coral predators from the reefs.
Crown of Thorns Starfish are a significant threat to coral reefs in the Indo-Pacific region. When outbreaks of these starfish are not controlled quickly, COTS often consume all the coral in one area and spread to neighboring reefs. Severe outbreaks of COTS are capable of destroying an entire reef system in a matter of weeks, and reefs may require decades or more to recover. Without corals, the fish that depend on reefs for feeding, shelter and breeding grounds will disappear. With millions of visitors to coral reef nations every year, COTS outbreaks have the potential to have a devastating impact on dive tourism.
The project in the Maldives is part of the Foundation’s Starfish Control and Removal (SCAR) Program designed to protect reefs from the damaging effects of the coral-eating starfish. The SCAR program has three components: an assessment of the condition of the reef and the amount of damage caused by the starfish, the removal of the COTS during outbreaks, and training others to remove COTS.
While in the Maldives the Foundation’s science team surveyed coral reefs to record the number and distribution of COTS, assessed the extent of damage, and studied COTS feeding preferences. They also collected tube feet from these starfish to determine where they came from and how the outbreak is spreading.
This project provided recreational divers and dive operators with the opportunity to take an active role in conserving the reefs they value. Because scientists are unlikely to be able to deal with the scale of the problem alone, citizen scientists, and local divers play a critical part in the success of COTS removal efforts. By working side by side with local divers, we were able to greatly increase the number of starfish that were removed from these reefs.
Partners in the Maldives
The following resorts in the Maldives have been extremely supportive of our starfish control and removal program and generously sponsored portions of our COTS research program.
“Furthering the coral adoption programme that Anantara initiated in 2008, we are thrilled to be supporting this marine environment programme conducting hands-on coral reef conservation. Surrounded 99% by water, the real beauty of the Maldives thrives below sea level with stunning corals and vast array of marine life. It is crucial that proactive and preventative measures are taken to protect it.” – Elizabeth Smailes, Anantara Resorts