Friday, April 6, 2012

Good Starfish, Bad Starfish

We are always learning on this adventure. We've learned that not all
starfish are good. The Crown of Thorns starfish are interesting
critters...central body with 'legs' similar to other starfish. But the
number of legs is more than 5. And not necessarily multiples of five. They
eat coral. They are eaten by Napoleon Wrasse and other big (and locally
absent) fish.

Here on Majuro Atoll and adjacent Arno Atoll, these starfish are in the
midst of a population boom. The scientists don't really understand very much
about them and are not sure what causes these localized explosions. But they
do know that where these leggy critters are in abundance, the coral is

An instructor at College of Marshall Islands (CMI) and the local fishing
industry association (MIMRA) have joined efforts in an eradication program.
We were asked to join in the effort. So John, Mike (my brother), and I
joined five cruisers and 10 others and jumped on one of the local fishing
transport boats to nearby Arno Atoll. Even though we were planning to stay
only one night, we were loaded to the gills. On board was dive and snorkel
equipment for everyone, 2 dozen tanks, food, coolers, sleeping equipment and
so on. We could have stayed a week! The trip was fast, travelling at least
20 knots - we arrived in less than an hour, propelled by two huge 150hp
engines on the back of this open vessel.

We arrived and staked out the accommodations at a local B&B. Shortly
thereafter, we had a brief intro from Dean, the CMI instructor to discuss
what we were looking for, how we would capture them, and how to avoid being
stung by their sharp thorns. We were diving at night, as that is when they
are most active, and will be easiest to capture.

At 8pm, we all (remember - 18 of us) jumped into the back of a truck for the
ride to the boat. We spent an hour sorting out our gear and getting suited
up and then the boat dropped us onto the reef, just 100m away from the dock.
We worked in pairs or triplets, with some people responsible for scanning
and searching for animals, others wielding the long handled bbq tongs for
their removal, and all of us with multiple straw sacks tucked into our
BCD's/wetsuits that we were to fill with dozens of creatures.

After an hour of searching John, Mike and I had caught one starfish. ONE.
Most other dive teams had similar luck, with only two or three animals. The
snorkellers were having much better luck in shallow water, but we didn't
know that until we all rendezvoused back on the boat. Our trip definitely
added to the knowledge pool on this creature: shallow areas were preferred,
rather than the deeper sites; animals remain hidden and are not especially
active during the full moon; and coral with bleached spots may indicate a
nearby starfish.

All in all, it was a good trip. We did some snorkelling the next morning,
and a few more Crown of Thorns were added to the 45 that we collected the
previous night. The coral at Arno is some of the most beautiful we've seen
anywhere in the Pacific, such diversity and explosions of colour. Fabulous.


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Hi - thanks for leaving a comment on the blog! Cheers - John and Naomi