Sunday, June 23, 2024
29 C
Brunei Town

Major starfish outbreak detected in Lahad Datu, Sabah

THE STAR – A concerted clean-up is underway in Darvel Bay, off Sabah’s east coast in Lahad Datu district, after a major outbreak of crown-of-thorns starfish (COTS) was detected.

Marine conservationists and government agencies are hard at work containing hundreds of those coral predators, which are threatening to destroy the coral reefs in the area.

Reef Check Malaysia (RCM), which partnered with the Sabah Tourism, Culture and Environment Ministry, has mobilised a team to eradicate the outbreak before it is too late.

The outbreak response team also includes divers from Sabah Parks, Lahad Datu Fisheries Department, Darvel Bay Diving Group and the NGO Larapan Youth.

RCM programme manager Nadhirah Mohd Rifai, a member of the outbreak response team, shared her experience handling COTS outbreaks over the years in Sabah.

A diver carrying a bucketful of crown-of-thorns starfish. PHOTO: REEF CHECK MALAYSIA

“Although COTS is a natural predator of corals, major outbreaks such as the one happening now can cause major harm to the coral reefs,” she said yesterday.

“One COTS can consume an average of 13square metres of reef per year. Imagine the potential damage that could be inflicted by thousands of COTS,” she added.

The team collected 485 COTS at Pulau Balik on Thursday and will spend the following three days controlling the population of the invasive starfish species in Darvel Bay.

If the COTS had been feeding for months unattended, Nadhirah said, most of the corals would have been dead.

“We need to take immediate action to reduce the population of the COTS before they wreak any further irreversible damage,” she said.

She said COTS outbreaks could be influenced by changes in the marine environment such as reduced water quality and increased water temperature.