Predatory starfish are swarming over one of the world's most diverse coral reef ecosystems, researchers announced, threatening the health of reefs throughout the Indo-Pacific region.
Crown-of-thorns starfish, named for the long spines covering their bodies, feed on corals by spreading their stomachs over the animals living inside, then secreting enzymes that liquefy the corals' tissue.
They prefer certain species and take them first, then they'll eat the others later," said Alison Green, a marine scientist with the nonprofit Nature Conservancy.
The starfish are found naturally throughout the Indo-Pacific. But a recent survey of reefs off the Indonesian island of Halmahera revealed that the numbers of the predators in some areas are double those that exist in a healthy reef.
Halmahera, the largest island in Indonesia's Maluku group, lies within the "coral triangle," which has been described as a global center of marine biodiversity.
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