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The Sau Bay Eco Warriors Take on the Crown-of-Thorn Starfish at Our Newest PADI Adopt-The-Blue Dive Site

During our last dive group, Sau Bay Divers embarked on an exploration dive.  The American Legion Yacht Club of Newport Beach, California is an adventurous bunch of divers, deciding to spend one of their 14 dives exploring a previously unexplored portion of the 26 mile long Rainbow Reef.    The reef selected for the exploration dive is a coral outcrop located between Sau Bay and Kioa Island, home of the Tuvalese People.  Located in a high energy environment, where the currents of the Somosomo Straits converge with those of the channel to Buca Bay, this spot had all the hallmarks of a potential great dive….which begged the question “Has nobody dove this site before?”. Perhaps it was not worthy of making it to one the top  30 sites on the Rainbow Reef....  Well, this group was about to find out!

Plunging into the turquise warm blue waters, the group of 11 divers split into two, with one exploring the leeward western side and the other group making their way toward the windward eastern side through shallow coral formations.    Eventually, both groups experienced the same thing – an overwhelmingly beautiful and pristine coral head about 10 acres in expanse, consisting of  hard and soft coral, a healthy  assemblage of reef fish, and an abundance of giant clams uncharacteristic of other the common dive sites of the Rainbow Reef.  But what really sets this dive apart is the shear diversity and abundance of corals, sponges, algae and macrofauna living among incredible coral structural formations.  A true snorkler’s and divers paradise! Our divemasters concurred that this dive site is defintiely worthy of being in the "Top 10" of the Rainbow Reef - and the best part is that this dive site is only a 3 minute boat ride from Sau Bay Resort!

But back on the boat after the dive, the group’s excitement quickly took a more somber note – “did you see all those crown-of-thorns starfish  on that side of the reef”?  These starfish (abbreviated COTS) are harmful to reefs because they prey on coral polyps. Large outbreaks of this particular starfish can lead to significant damage to coral populations, disrupting the delicate balance of the reef ecosystem.  It was evident that the abundance of COTS at this dive site was anomalous - clearly indicative of an outbreak when compared to any of the other sites frequented by our dive teams. It should be noted that COTS are native to Fiji's reef systems, but outbreaks of these starfish can have devastating effects on the reefs. Sau Bay Resort & Spa's objective was to contain the COTS outbreak at this particular reef in order to maintain a healthy balance.

So, after exchanges of personal encounters by the divers, an action plan was quickly derived by the group –  the decision was made to come back after a wholesome lunch and go hunt down those COTS on this awesome new dive site!

The gameplan was further developed and teams of three were put together, with designated  “spotters” and “killers” (those with spears), and – of course – a dedicated photographer.     Research was also done over lunch over the most effective way to kill COTS.  The preferred method of injecting the COTS with vinegar was not an option for this group as the equipment was not available on short notice.  The decision was made to bring the COTS back to shore, let them dry out and bury them (Stabbing COTS in the water doesn’t kill the starfish – each leg can grow into a new starfish).

The group mobilized for the "COTS HUNT" dive after lunch.  Excitement was in the air.   This group was determined to make a big difference.  Since this appeared to be a localized “explosion” of COTS, compared to the dive sites on the Rainbow Reef, the group felt very motivated to eradicate the COTS from this pristine reef before significant changes would become noticeable.   The larger group split into the designated hunting groups and went to “work".

Upon getting back on board the boat after the dive, the group quickly figured that well over 20 COTS had been collected. Back at the resort, the real count was conducted.  A total of 33 COTS had been collected on one dive with 11 divers – essentially 3 COTS per diver!

At the end of the day, the group decided that this COTS Hunt dive was one of the most fun dives of their 14 day adventure on the Rainbow Reef – they got to spend another hour exploring this great reef, while purging the reef of this invasive killer starfish.    It was clear that the group had made a positive impact.    However, it also was clear that this could not be an isolated incident, and that a sustained effort would be needed to protect this reef. Therefore, to maximize our ability to protect the reef, Sau Bay Resort officially adopted this dive site under the PADI Adopt the Blue program, making this our third official dive site to adopt  after the Great White Wall and The Zoo.    The entire coral outcrop was named Sau Bay Sanctuary, with the windward, eastern side of the reef dive site named "Eden". As part of our Adopt the Blue commitment for this site, we will dive this site frequently and continue to exercise population control of COTS on this superb dive site.

We encourage our guests to participate in our PADI Aware program, in which we promote active reef conservation and protection through eco-tourism. Our guests go home knowing that they made a small difference in the world of coral reef conseravation in an age when every action counts!

A huge thanks to the American Legion Yacht Club Dive and Snorkel Group for your efforts in April 2024 and your continued support of our local community.

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