Thailand's reefs to get protection from starfish and tourists

Programs will be established in Thailand’s southernand eastern provinces this year to promote public awareness of the needto protect the region’s amazing coral reef ecosystems. Damage fromtourism is a significant challenge being faced by reefs in theselocations along with recent signs of crown-of-thorns infestations.Similar programs are being launched in 40 other countries to celebratethe International Year of the Reef 2008.

Wannakiat Thubthimsang, director of Phuket Marine Biological Centre(PMBC), which comes under the Marine and Coastal Resources Department,announced that the campaign will focus on provinces that are home todiverse coral reefs, such as Phuket, Satun and Chumphon.

A major event is planned in Phuket in early May when a report on thecurrent state of Thai coral reefs will be released to the public aswell. It’s goal is to create public awareness about how sustainablemanagement could limit the tourism industry’s impact on fragile marineresources, Wannakiat explained.

Reefs in the Krabi province are facing a new danger from the growing population ofcrown-of-thorns starfish, a coral eater. These aggressive starfish arealso feeding on coral in Phuket and Satun waters. A team of divers hasbeen sent to collect the starfish from affected coral sites. The divershave removed over 240 crown-of-thorns in a two-rai area near Panva capein Phuket and over 60 near Koh Similan off Krabi.

The crown-of-thorns starfish (Acanthaster planci) is a starfish withthorn-like spines sprouting all over its body for protection. They growto a diameter of up to 40 cm across and have 12 to 19 arms extendingfrom their center.

If accidentally touched or stepped on by humans, the starfish’s longspines (which release a neurotoxin) are capable of pricking andstinging, inflicting great pain that can last for hours, as well asnausea and vomiting.

The starfish is a coral reef predator (a corallivore) and preys on thecoral polyps by climbing onto them, extruding its stomach over them,and releasing digestive enzymes to then absorb the liquified tissue.They feed alone at night, maintaining a constant distance betweenthemselves and other crown-of-thorns starfish. During times of foodshortage, these creatures can live on their energy reserves for oversix months.

Source: Bangkok Post

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