crown-of-thorns starfish (#49A, added 8 Jan '98)

The infamous crown-of-thorns starfish grows to over a foot across and has 10-20 arms. It is well known for its voracious appetite for live hard-corals. At various times it has been blamed for the killing of large portions of reefs in parts of the Pacific ocean, including a large portion of the great barrier reef of Australia during the 1960's. It is so despised that many scuba clubs organize "starfish hunts" in which these starfish are rounded up in an effort to save reefs from destruction. These starfish should be handled carefully, since the long, sharp spines are mildly venomous and can inflict painful wounds (slow to heal, too, as I can attest!).

One explanation for local population explosions of these destructive starfish is the collection of this starfish's natural enemy, the Triton Trumpet (Charonia tritonis). For this reason trumpet shellfish (if alive) should never be collected by divers and are often protected by law, because of their importance to reef ecology.

Identification: Acanthaster planci


related links:

Cooperative Research Centre for the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area-- "Crown of Thorns Starfish on the Great Barrier Reef" brochure (PDF format)

"Thorny Problems" -- the debate over outbreaks of the Crown of Thorns starfish in Australia from CNN

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