A Crown-of-Thorns Starfish marching onward over a dead, devoured table coral towards a local reef in South Ari Atoll.
COTS are a veracious coral predator found on reefs across the Indo-Pacific. Explosive outbreaks of this species can occur with little warning, and are known to kill-off huge areas of coral, with impacts that can persist for more than 10 years.
This image is relevant because humans are believed to be one of the biggest potential drivers. In the Maldives, pollution from inhabited islands and resorts may drive higher survival of COTS larvae. More generally, overfishing of COTS predators, human-driven climate change and ocean acidification all play a role in reducing a reef's resilience to COTS outbreaks.
But the Maldives has the power to defeat the outbreak before it becomes unmanageable. Widespread tourism means there is already a network of marine biologists, diving operators and tourists that can be mobilised to monitor and remove COTS found on local reefs.