Scientists say a plague of sea stars is devastating Pacific coral reefs
This article, featured in the Washington Post, puts national public focus on the increasing threat posed to coral reefs by crown-of-thorns starfish (COTS), as highlighted by the Foundation’s Starfish Collection and Removal (SCAR) Team work in the Maldives.
November 16, 2015
By Darryl Fears
As if the world’s coral reefs didn’t have enough problems — killer rising ocean temperatures, crazy bleaching events and oil slicks comprised of sunscreen from sunbathers that denude them, they are now under attack by hordes of thorny sea creatures.
That’s what some scientists are calling an explosion of voracious crown-of-thorns sea stars in Maldives that are eating coral reefs with mouths in their stomachs. For some reason — no one quite knows what — their numbers have grown out of control. Where once divers would see one or two eating coral across about a mile, they’re now seeing 100. And a single sea star can produce 50 million eggs per year, scientists said.
“Their population is exploding in numbers that haven’t really been seen in the Maldives before,” said Alexandra Dempsey, a coral ecologist for the Khaled bin Sultan Living Oceans Foundation. “They can be clumped in an area with 60 to 80 animals within 20 meters, or four or five animals on one patch of coral. We’ve swam distances of 1,500 meters to collect 100 animals…”