Volunteer engagements thrive during university semester breaks. MES at these times are always grateful for the contributions and effort put in by the committed volunteers who give up their break for environment projects instead. The volunteers mainly consisting of university students form the University of the South Pacific and Fiji National University are engaged in the various MES projects. Two such projects are the Crown of thorns (COTS) Removal Project and Underwater Cleanup Project.
Malolo Island Resort scheduled 7th of July for the MES volunteers to carry out a crown of thorns removal exercise and underwater clean-up. The team of 4 volunteers – Varea, Saketa, Mere and Ashley, 2 attachés Liku and Ilisapeci and Marine & Education Officer, Filomena, spent the whole day snorkelling the Malolo house reef for COTS and rubbish.
While the team did not find any crown of thorns starfish, more effort was put into collection of rubbish which included plastics, rods and PVC pipes.
Castaway Island Resort scheduled the 10th Of July for the Volunteer program. The team consisting of Mesu, Varea and Saketa collected 10 COTS on that day. The COTS were taken ashore, sun dried then buried.
Varea and Saketa stated that being a volunteer at MES has furthered their interest and knowledge when out in the field.
The volunteers thoroughly enjoyed themselves, snorkelling the reefs and at the same time contributing to a worth while project not only for the reefs but towards sustainable tourism.
COTS (Acanthaster planci) are a large nocturnal sea star that preys upon coral polyps. It receives its name from the venomous thorn-like spines that cover its body. It produces a neurotoxin which can be released through its spines. Not only are the wounds themselves serious, but the neurotoxin can cause a sharp stinging pain that can last for hours, as well as nausea and vomiting. Overpopulation of COTS proves very fatal for the reefs and daily removal or control programs need to be in place to ensure the health and longevity of the reefs.