[Coral-List] Acanthaster planci outbreak in the Philippines – urgent volunteers’ help needed

Ben-Tzvi Ofer oferdag at yahoo.com
Mon Jun 23 03:33:35 EDT 2008

Hello coral listers,
I have just returned from the Philippines where I have dived in several areas. I have found that many reefs are densely infested by crown of thorns (Acanthaster planci). I was surprised since I was not aware of any previous report of recent Acanthaster outbrack in the Philippines. Infested reefs were observed from Tawi-Tawi to Anilau (≈1000 km distance between the two). However the situation seems to be more severe in Twai-Twai group. I did not do any quantitative surveys but I have witnessed these stars everywhere in shallow water (down to 10 m deep) where hard corals exist. Sometimes there are aggregations of several stars (2->10) and stars are found (solitary or aggregated) every few m (I estimate that usually less then every 5 m).  
The people there have good will but very limited resources. They have already removed thousands of stars but the effect is hardly seen in the reef where many corals are already damaged and stars are still abundant.
I am a coral reef ecologist but I know too little about the crown of thorns in order to estimate how much time it will take until all hard corals will be dead. However, it seem that it will not be long if nothing is done urgently.
I think that volunteer organizations are those that can and should help. In this case immediate action is needed in two ways: first, to send divers to clean the reefs and, second, to do surveys and find where and to what extant the problem exist.
I have visited only few sites at two islands of the Tawi-Tawi group. There are many more reefs in these islands and in other islands of the group. I have herd some reports that these stars are found every where in this group's reefs. Since I have witnessed high abundance and severe damage also in Anilau, I will not be surprised if most reefs of the Philippines are infested. Moreover, Tawi-Tawi is only a few km from Saba Malaysia. Reefs there can be infested too.    
Since I have no more data the right action might be to start cleaning from Tawi Tawi. 
If any NGO is willing to help and can arrange a quick action I can provide some more details (not too much) and essential contacts in Twai Twai. It should be noted that the infrastructure regarding dive facilities and accommodation in Tawi Tawi is limited. I believe it will not be possible to obtain the needed services for too many divers at once. Also the accommodations offered are basic and limited. Thus, longer involvement of few volunteers at once will probably be needed. More information can be obtained also from Prof. Filemon Romero from Tawi-Tawi's university and the local WWF branch at filemon.romero at yahoo.com
Below please see also a report I have just received from Cleto Nanola from the Philippines. Unfortunately my estimate that the infestation is widely spread becomes true just showing the urgency of international help.
"just to let you know that I also observed COT infestation in Isabela City, Basilan (June 2008), Basila Strait; Samal Island, Davao del Norte (March 2008), Davao Gulf. It seems to be that infestation is happening in Celebes Sea Region."


Ofer Ben-Tzvi
The Interuniversity Institute for Marine Sciences in Eilat
P.O.B. 469 Eilat 88805 Israel
Tel:             +972-(0)8-6360179       
Cell:             +972-(0)54-4846383       
Fax: +972-(0)8-6374329


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