MECA divers cull coral predating starfish in Damaniyat Islands

August 08, 2018

The Ministry of Environment and Climate Affairs (MECA) has carried out an intensive campaign to remove crown-of-thorns starfish (COTS), a carnivorous predator that preys on coral polyps and destroys the reefs over a period of time, at the Damaniyat Islands Nature Reserve.

The ministry stated that as part of its efforts to monitor the state of coral reefs and protect them from human and natural impacts, it carries out regular campaigns.

“Recent inspection (at Damaniyat Islands) saw that the widespread presence of the predator was affecting the health and life of coral reefs. So divers from the ministry were deployed to weed out the starfish for two consecutive days.”

The ministry said that the two-day campaign was managed by specialists from the Department of Marine Environment Conservation at the ministry and the Department of Environment and Climate Affairs in South Sharqiyah with logistical support from Oman Sail.

Coral reefs of Oman have been affected by recurrent outbreaks of COTS in the past, with outbreaks typically occurring in the Sea of Oman, and particularly to the reefs around the capital area and the Damaniyat Islands where outbreak densities have often exceeded 100 individuals per hectare.

They are generally rare but do occur in Musandam and on reefs along Oman’s Arabian Sea coast, according to a recent study on Oman’s coral reefs by J A Burt of Center for Genomics and Systems Biology, New York University Abu Dhabi.

COTS species has 12 aching arms with a size of over 50cm and is known for eating the polyps of the corals and killing them.

International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) too has been supporting Oman in the preservation of the Damaniyat Islands’ ecological integrity as well as proposing management measures for one of the most popular nature reserves of the sultanate.

In June 2016, the Ministry of Environment and Climate Affairs contacted IUCN for conducting a survey of the Damaniyat Islands in order to assess their richness in terms of biodiversity, propose management measures and define options for further investment for nature conservation and improved accessibility to the site.

The 2016 survey also found that there was an outbreak of COTS at the Damaniyat Islands. It was reported by IUCN that the number of COTS appeared to be higher than usual (outbreak), the normal number being of around five specimens per hectare.

As an awareness and training exercise and with the participation of divers from the IUCN mission, it was decided to reduce the population of COTS in the main bay of Gebal al Kabir island. This was done in an area of about two hectares and 151 COTS individuals were removed.