Evaluating the Effectiveness of Community-Based Management of the Crown-of-Thorns Seastar (<i>Acanthaster planci</i>) in Romblon, Philippines
Byce, Sarah Jean
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Crown-of-thorns (COT) seastars, <i>Acanthaster planci</i>, are corallivores, which have consumed mass quantities of coral throughout the Indo-Pacific thereby posing serious threat to the coral reef ecosystem. The Philippines is a nation of island communities, who depend on the sea for both livelihood and food. There is no current, consolidated database documenting the extent of COT abundance in the Philippines and no former research has assessed COT management in local government units of the Philippines to determine best practice guidelines. This study used participant surveys with local government officials, manta tows, SCUBA transects, snorkel surveys, and removal events in the small island province of Romblon, Philippines to evaluate the existing state of COT populations and management. Data collected across twelve different municipalities and 80 coastal barangays (towns) revealed a lack of awareness of COT ecology and gaps in communication between local government officials and fisher folk. Pre-existing management of COTs was found to be non-existent. Secondly, this study implemented and evaluated bounty programs for COT removal by hand in eight municipalities amounting to 12,946 total COTs removed by 293 participants with an estimated 77,676 m2 of coral reef saved from consumption in the forthcoming year. No removal event completely eradicated COTs and all sites required additional follow up action. Costs of outbreak removal events versus estimated COT consumption rates indicate that this method of coral reef conservation can save one square meter of coral reef for approximately PHP 1 or 22 US cents. Successful COT management in Romblon, Philippines will require improved awareness by government officials of COT ecology and threats, increased communication between government officials and fisher folk, and a small task force of individuals dedicated to multiple consistent COT removals along key reefs.