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Crown of Thorns
Introduction | Identification | Impacts | Causes | Actions | More Info

The crown-of-thorns starfish or COTS is a naturally occurring echinoderm found throughout the Indo-Pacific Region. COTS normally selectively feed on the coral tissue of fast-growing corals, which can create space for slower growing and rare corals. In this way, infrequent outbreaks of COTS may help to maintain species diversity of corals on reefs. However, since the 1950s, COTS has been found to be responsible for the mass mortality of many species of hard corals (Miller 2002) in some locations of the world and the number of outbreaks seems to be increasing. Though the exact causes of these outbreaks are largely unknown, a combination of natural and/or human related factors that include nutrient pollution and overfishing of species that prey on COTS such as tritons and napoleon wrasse, may be part of the problem. Therefore, COTS outbreaks may be a sign of overall decreasing reef health due to human impacts.
Crown-of-thorns starfish, Acanthaster planci. Location: Pulau Redang, Malaysia Photo by: J. Oliver (from ReefBase: http://www.reefbase.org)
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