Welcome to the Marine Mammal and wildlife Research and Community Development Expedition blog where you can keep up to date with all the happenings and information from Kenya

Friday, August 19, 2011

Seeing stars...

Sea stars, also known as Starfish are echinoderms that are well known for their regenerative properties. Sea stars are capable of growing a new disc and arm. Most sea stars have 5 arms although several such as the Crown of thorns starfish have more. Although we only record sightings of the Crown of thorns on our megafauna data sheets due to their relationship with the destruction of coral, many different species of starfish are seen consistently on snorkel transects, the most common ones are described and pictured below. 
The thin-limbed Linckia laevigata is a distinctive bright blue

We quite often spot thin limbed Linckia guildingi and Linckia laevigata  on shallow reef areas and among coral rubble – they have smooth, long cyclindrical arms and are around 25cm diameter. They are pale pink or gray and distinctive bright blue, and seen in a variety of areas both inside and outside the KMMPA.
Protoreaster lincki have a very distinctive appearance with a bright red pattern and spines on a pale grey or white body. They can reach around 30m diameter and have been seen in large numbers recently; 8 were seen on a snorkel transect on the northern edge of lower Mpunguti island in the Marine Reserve just this week.
On our rocky intertidal we are also fortunate to see species that prefer sandy or seagrass shallow areas such as the Pentaceraster mammillatus, with highly variable colours seen, and Pentaceraster tuberculatus, which is a bluish yellow.  These tend to have stocky bodies, with rounded tubercles on surface and reach up to 20cm diameter.  

This Pentaceraster mammillatus is found on rocky shallows
Also, in our more degraded and heavily fished reef areas, such as those around Sii Island, we see a number of the mentioned species and also the Culcita schmideliana on the shallow reefs. It is a large, inflated five armed starfish growing up to 30cm in diameter. They are pale cream in colour towards end of arms with mottled pink on a red disc and have scattered black, blunt tubercles. These feed on small coral colonies. 
The large inflated Culcita schmideliana seen on shallow reefs

We have a wealth of interesting marine species in this area, often overlooked due to the larger more iconic species also present here. Sea stars are one of many!