Crown of Thorns Problem

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The Crown of Thorns starfish Acanthaster planci (COTS) has contributed greatly to declines in coral cover on Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, and remains one of the major acute disturbances on Indo-Pacific coral reefs.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I hadn’t seen them much around Guam for the first couple of years that we were here. I saw my first one at Dadi Beach on the Navy base. I ran into two at Fish Eye Marine Park, and so on.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

However, I had heard that they could sometimes breed like crazy and take over an area. Last weekend, I finally saw that happen.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

We were swimming from Gun Beach towards Tumon Bay. As we passed the Beach Bar and the stage where they have traditional dances, we began to see Crown of Thorns star fish. First just one, then another, then another, then another…

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

By the time we were even with the wedding chapel just past the beach area, we were in the midst of a huge bloom of Crown of Thorns, at depths of 10 feet to 30 feet all along the coral.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

It is always discouraging to come upon these very poisonous and very evil star fish who gobble up healthy coral and leave barren wastelands. However, it is even worse at Gun Beach, where last year’s bleaching had already taken so much of the coral. Now what little is left is being gobbled up!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

For anyone who snorkels or dives regularly, remember that it can make a huge difference if you report these Crown of Thorns blooms right away to whomever handles such things in your area. Here on Guam, it’s up to NOAA, who do reef monitoring, and who are piloting a program to begin killing Crown of Thorns star fish.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

It’s harder than one would imagine to kill a Crown of Thrones. I always figured it would be a good idea to just grab them from the water and let them dry out and die on land. However, it turns out that they spawn when they feel threatened.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

If you scare or upset a Crown of Thorns, it will essentially spray babies out. Therefore, it is up to the professionals to strap on a dive tank, and carefully inject each arm of the Crown of Thorns with poison.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

This way they are killed without being jostled or moved, and so they don’t know it is happening. (They are only star fish after all, so it’s not like they have brains.)

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

So the takeaway here is: These evil star fish are killing what coral we have left. If you see something, say something. Don’t try to kill them yourself, or you could make a bad situation worse. And avoid contact because they are very poisonous.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Missing Turtle

Larry

For more than a year there was a turtle living at Fish Eye Marine Park. He ate the food that they threw in the water for the fish, and visited with the tourists. Some people called him “Larry,” and other people called him “Crush.”

I don’t know what he called himself.

However, he had a small metal tag under each front flipper. One said NOAA Maui USA, and the other said PI2775. He was a green sea turtle who was approximately 50 years of age, and he had a girl turtle in the Piti Bomb Holes near by that he seemed to visit with.

In Mid-July, the tour operators at Fish Eye watched as people from the Department of Agriculture came and took Larry the turtle away.

They said they were taking him “to study,” according to the tour operators.

However, when we called the Department of Agriculture, they  claimed that the turtle “was a nuisance” and so as moved “to the other side of the island.”

Now of course, this was not his first time being caught on Guam. The Marine Biologists at Underwater World took him for study. They weighed him, measured him, and then released him on the other side of the island.

He swam right back, because he enjoys people and food.

However, after the Department of Agriculture claims to have taken him “to the other side of the island,” he did not swim back.

He was a very strong swimmer, and you can be sure that he was capable. How can you be sure, you ask? Well, the people at Underwater World were actually hoping that they could find some evidence that his rear flipper (which was damaged) made it too difficult for him to be in the wild.

They hoped this because they have a rescued sea turtle in the aquarium already, and they hoped for a second.

However, according to the laws governing the treatment of an endangered species, if they are found to be able to survive on their own, they cannot be “rescued.”

Ergo, we know that if the turtle had actually been released by the Department of Agriculture, he would have swam back as he had done before.

We cannot make conclusions from the information that we have. However, we can know two things for sure.

1. Turtle meat fetches a high price on Guam and on the other islands in the chain, because the Native people eat turtle. They know that these turtles are endangered, but some choose to do it anyway. Anyone who took the turtle to sell would have made a LOT of money.

2. They were very suspicious on the phone and asked for my husband’s full name and information before claiming that the turtle was moved. If they are keeping track of who is asking, then one would suggest that they have a reason to be worried.

I am not saying that the Department of Agriculture sold the turtle. However, I am saying without a doubt that they were the last people to have him, and that in two months, he has still not been sighted anywhere else.

If they did not sell him, then their choice to move him certainly seems to have brought about his untimely demise, leaving his girlfriend single and removing his genes from the species.

Furthermore, I spoke with several tour operators who said the initial complaint against the turtle was falsified.

They claim that he was good for business and made the tourists happy and that they would never have done anything that led to his removal.

It is certainly suspicious.

I hope that there will be an investigation, since selling an endangered species for profit is obviously illegal. However, given the diminished funding of the EPA, I worry that justice will not be served.

turtle and zebra fish.jpg

Side Note:

I have also not seen the female turtle who was hanging around the Piti Bomb Holes near Fish Eye. However, I am not sure that not seeing her is significant. Green Sea Turtles are not social, and it is possible that she was just around to “visit” a boy turtle for a bit.

This is what she looked like:

girlfriend

If you look, you can see that you doesn’t have a tail that extends past her shell, or claws on her flippers. Only males have those traits (which is actually to hold onto the female’s shell.)

She was a little smaller than the male turtle, but they seemed similar in size and age.

girlfriend two

Anyway:

The point of this post is that if anyone has any information about the green sea turtle lovingly called “Larry” or “Crush” who used to live at Fish Eye Marine Park, please let me know.

Thank you.