PI-CASC fellow Farron Taijeron to conduct trainings on coral-killing starfish in Tonga

A man is seen underwater using an instrument on a crown of thorns starfish.
Farron Taijeron is seen using an injector on a crown-of-thorns starfish for its removal.

University of Guam agriculture and life sciences undergraduate student Farron “TheGuamGuy” Taijeron was awarded funding from the Young Pacific Leaders Program to train Tongan natural resource managers on combating coral-eating crown-of-thorns starfish.

The crown-of-thorns starfish, which earned its name from its sharp spines, is a significant contributor to coral decline across the Pacific Ocean. The starfish preys on coral polyps and damages reefs that offer haven and sustenance to marine species. Amid warming ocean temperatures, coral bleaching events and erratic weather patterns in a changing global climate, this predator drives further coral mortality and threatens the quality and quantity of precious ocean resources for our livelihoods.

With the Young Pacific Leaders TechCamp Small Grant funding approximately $8,000, Taijeron will provide Tongan officials with training and resources to help mitigate and prevent further harm of crown-of-thorns starfish to the island country. Taijeron is experienced in the removal of the starfish and has created a specialty course for Guam within the Professional Association of Diving Instructors system to train and certify volunteer divers to cull this species using effective methods supported by researchers and coral reef managers.

Three people are in front of a podium and next to a presentation screen.
Farron Taijeron presents on community engagement at the Young Pacific Leaders TechCamp for Climate Action in Auckland, New Zealand in October 2022.

“Crown-of-thorns outbreaks wreak havoc on our already struggling reefs, and I found myself well positioned to be able to do something about it. After creating and introducing the program on Guam, I was surprised to learn that other places have it even worse. So I think it’s wonderful that YPL facilitates these inter-island exchanges,” said Taijeron, who is also a Pacific Islands Climate Adaptation Science Center fellow through UOG’s Climate Adaptation for Resource Management program.

Taijeron conceptualized this project while attending the Young Pacific Leaders’ TechCamp in New Zealand in October 2022. While there, he observed discussions on the need for cost-effective mitigation measures on coral-eating predators. In addition to training natural resource managers, Taijeron will also provide supplies for them for continued culling operations when the project is finished. He will be traveling to Tonga this fall to begin training.

Developed by the US Department of State in 2013, the Young Pacific Leaders Program supports 25- to 35-year-old individuals from Micronesia, Melanesia and Polynesia to pursue leadership opportunities across various themes, including education, environment and resource management, civic leadership and economic and social development. The Young Pacific Leaders TechCamp for Climate Action that Taijeron attended last year connected US government officials with regional leaders to identify problems and potential solutions to climate change issues throughout the islands.