A photo released by the Australian Institute of Marine Science on October 2, 2012 shows crown-of-thorns starfish and cyclone damage in Australia's Great Barrier Reef. The coral-killing starfish has begun infesting a channel of water in the Philippines famed for having some of the most diverse marine life in the world, the government says.

A coral-killing starfish has begun infesting a channel of water in the Philippines famed for having some of the most diverse marine life in the world, the government said Friday.

The appearance of the crown-of-thorns starfish in the Verde Island Passage could cause great damage to the area's biodiversity, Jacob Meimban, head of the wildlife bureau's coastal marine management office, told AFP.

"The crown-of-thorns starfish really kills the corals. It eats the polyps of the corals, leaving the bleached, white bodies. Then it moves elsewhere… until it leaves the reef dead," Meimban said.

Marine biologists have described the passage, which is 100 kilometres (around 60 miles) long and 20 kilometres wide, as the "centre of the centre" of the world's ocean biodiversity.

It is at the top of the Coral Triangle, an area of water spanning down to Indonesia,  and East Timor that is called the " of the Seas" because of its rich marine life.

However environmentalists have also warned for years that the passage, a popular dive location, is under grave threat from pollution and overfishing.

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