Removing Coral Attack of Crown of Thorns
A major cleanup of the coral-eating starfish known as Crown of Thorns (Acanthaster planci) has been carried out by Togean Conservation Foundation at 22 popular snorkelling and reef sites across the Togean Islands in Central Sulawesi, Indonesia. Supported by several local resorts, international and local volunteers as well as Togean Islands National Park, Togean Conservation Foundation, which was founded in December 2018, managed to manually collect 8511 starfish over three weeks around the tourist islands of Una-Una, Kadidiri and Malenge.
The starfish have been eating their way around reefs as their population explodes across the Indo-Pacific region, causing extensive damage to coral and threatening the livelihoods of fishermen and those working in the tourist industry. The Australian Government spent 58 million dollars addressing crown of thorns on the Great Barrier Reef as they caused 70-80% of coral death in the region. Local fishing communities are largely unaware of how the problem is impacting on their livelihoods and have said that unless they are paid, they are unable to take time off from fishing to collect the starfish. Individual resorts had tried to cleanup nearby reefs but struggled to control the new numbers appearing as each adult starfish can lay up to 65 million eggs per breeding season.
The Foundation is conducting research into the possibility of using the starfish to make an organic fertiliser for farms, “If we are successful in making a formula that can improve soil fertility in Togeans, our farmers will also see successes, and it will be feasible to pay the community to collect the starfish instead of having to rely on volunteers coming from abroad to solve the problem” explained the project coordinator. Funding for the research was contributed by the international volunteers.
According to the Foundation’s organiser, Stephanie Garvin, who is a volunteer from Northern Ireland, “Crown of Thorns outbreaks can typically only be effectively controlled when multiple stakeholders become involved. In the case of our project, the resorts and their dive guides, having intimate knowledge of the reefs, were able to advise on the priority areas to target and provided facilities and equipment for the divers, while the Foundation brought in the man-power and took on coordination of the project”.
The Foundation stated “As far as we are aware, the local government hasn’t yet allocated funding or devised a strategy to deal with this major threat in Tojo Una-Una. We are very grateful to our sponsors, Sanctum Dive, Pristine Paradise, Kadidiri Paradise, Harmony Bay, Malenge Indah, Bahia Tomini and Sandy Bay resorts for providing accommodation, food and diving gear for the volunteers”. Togean Conservation Foundation stated that the cleanups would need to continue for 2-3 years before the population could be returned to normal as this is the time required for larvae to appear on reefs as adults.
The Foundation believes with better cooperation and support from of all stakeholders like TNKT (Togean Islands National Park), Government Tourism and Fisheries Departments, and resort owners, we will be able to tackle environment issues in Togean Islands.
Media enquiries and volunteer opportunities to:
Togean Conservation Foundation
Tel/ Whatsapp +62 821 8897 9315