Australia scientists tackle reef-killing starfish

Oct 08, 2012 by Martin Parry
Undated handout photo provided by the Australian Institute of Marine Science shows damage caused by crown-of-thorns starfish at the Great Barrier Reef. An Australian research team said Monday they have found an effective way to kill the destructive starfish that are decimating coral reefs across the Pacific and Indian oceans.

An Australian research team said Monday they have found an effective way to kill the destructive crown-of-thorns starfish, which is devastating coral reefs across the Pacific and Indian oceans.

The discovery by James Cook University's Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies in Queensland state comes after a study showed the Great Barrier Reef had lost more than half its coral cover in the past 27 years.

Outbreaks of the large, poisonous and spiny starfish, which feast on coral polyps, was linked to 42 percent of the destruction.

Researchers said they have developed a culture that infects the starfish with bacteria and can destroy them in as little as 24 hours.

The also spreads to other starfish that come near or into contact with an infected individual.

The next step will be tests to see if it is safe for other marine life, particularly fish.

Undated handout photo provided by the Australian Institute of Marine Science shows crown-of-thorns starfish and cyclone damage at the Great Barrier Reef. Researchers said they have developed a culture that infects the starfish with its own bacteria and can destroy them in as little as 24 hours.

"In developing a you have to be very careful to target only the species you are aiming at, and be certain that it can cause no harm to other species or to the wider environment," said Morgan Pratchett, a professor at the centre.

"This compound looks very promising from that standpoint—though there is a lot of tank testing still to do before we would ever consider trialling it in the sea."

Outbreaks around tourist sites in Australia are currently controlled using a poison injection delivered by a diver to each starfish.

If the new culture is found to be safe, it would only need a single jab into one starfish, enabling a diver to kill as many as 500 of the creatures in a single dive.

Another scientist from the centre, Jairo Rivera Posada, said that over the past 50 years the starfish had caused more damage to reefs than bleaching.

"There were massive outbreaks in many countries in the 1960s and 1980s—and a new one is well under way on the Great Barrier Reef," he said, highlighting the urgency of tackling the threat.

"In the current in the Philippines they removed as many as 87,000 starfish from a single beach," he added.

"This gives you an idea of the numbers we have to deal with."

Undated handout photo provided by Australian Institute of Marine Science shows damage caused by crown-of-thorns starfish at the Great Barrier Reef. A scientist said that over the past 50 years the starfish had caused more damage to reefs than bleaching.

Posada said other fresh crown-of-thorns outbreaks have been reported from Guam, French Polynesia, Papua New Guinea and the central Indian Ocean.

Research released last week by the Australian Institute of Marine Sciences warned that coral cover on the heritage-listed Great Barrier Reef—the world's largest—could halve again by 2022 if trends continued.

As well as starfish, intense tropical cyclones and two severe coral bleaching events had been responsible for the damage.

The study pinpointed improving water quality as key to controlling starfish outbreaks, with increased agricultural run-off such as fertiliser along the reef coast causing algal blooms that starfish larvae feed on.

The Centre of Excellence for scientists agreed.

"Any attempts to control these outbreaks will be futile without also addressing the root cause of outbreaks, including loss of predators as well as increased nutrients that provide food for larval starfishes," they said.

Last week, the Australian government admitted the had been neglected for decades, but said it had contributed hundreds of millions of dollars to address the issues over the past five years.

Explore further: Climate change: meteorologists preparing for the worst

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User comments : 11

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JoeBlue
2 / 5 (4) Oct 08, 2012
Law of unintended consequences...
Moebius
3.7 / 5 (3) Oct 08, 2012
Why don't they use the same principle that has driven other species to extinction? Set people loose on them. Offer a bounty for them or some other thing that has caused people to drive a species extinct. We are really good at killing things with very little incentive.
ScooterG
1.9 / 5 (9) Oct 08, 2012
I thought AGW was to blame for the reef destruction?
NotParker
1 / 5 (5) Oct 08, 2012
Wow. They were lying about AGW killing coral reefs for so long they didn't do anything about the real problem!

Billions wasted on the big AGW con!
ValeriaT
3.7 / 5 (3) Oct 08, 2012
They were lying about AGW killing coral reefs for so long they didn't do anything about the real problem!
The expansion of starfishes is the consequence of climate change in similar way, like the expansion of jellyfishes and another invasive species. Of course, the overfishing, contamination of marine water and similar consequences of human overpopulation could be culprit here too, but I cannot imagine the corresponding mechanism.
ScooterG
1.6 / 5 (7) Oct 08, 2012
but I cannot imagine the corresponding mechanism.


Don't worry, in time, some "researcher" will publish some bogus study that will address this issue. After all, AGW is master of the universe. There is no environmental or economic malady - real or contrived - that AGW cannot be made responsible for - all it takes is a "scientist" willing to sell his integrity.
zoid
5 / 5 (2) Oct 08, 2012
Announce that they are aphrodisiacs and they will get taken care of quickly
ScooterG
1.7 / 5 (6) Oct 08, 2012
Funny...some of these AGW studies that are so ludicrous even Mr. AGW himself - VendicarD - deliberately ignores them!
Tpo_Kahuna
5 / 5 (2) Oct 09, 2012
"including loss of starfish predators"

That may be the key phrase in the whole article. Crown of Thorns in the adult stage are essentially inedible by any predator, but vulnerable when younger. One of their most vulnerable phases is when they are quite small and can be eaten by large mollusks. A major problem is that humans have long collected large mollusks (can you say Conch Soup?), and the lack of that essential predator to the immature starfish allows them to develop to adults, which propagate by the release of millions of eggs. So, no, not necessarily AGW, but still man's hand in the cookie jar...
NotParker
1 / 5 (4) Oct 09, 2012
They were lying about AGW killing coral reefs for so long they didn't do anything about the real problem!
The expansion of starfishes is the consequence of climate change in similar way, like the expansion of jellyfishes and another invasive species. Of course, the overfishing, contamination of marine water and similar consequences of human overpopulation could be culprit here too, but I cannot imagine the corresponding mechanism.


What did so-called climate change do that the MWP didn't do or the LIA for that matter?

Climate always changes. Man has nothing to do with it.

NotParker
1 / 5 (3) Oct 09, 2012
"Outbreaks of crown-of-thorns starfish Acanthaster planci have been a major issue on the Great Barrier Reef and other Indo-Pacific reefs for nearly 40 years."

"Outbreaks generally occur at regular intervals with coral cover returning to pre-outbreak levels in the intervening years."

http://www.reef.c...dex.html

The 1970s were pretty cold ... so climate change has nothing to do with it.

"The first documented case of large numbers of crown-of-thorns starfish on the Great Barrier Reef was noticed at Green Island off Cairns in 1962.

It's possible that starfish outbreaks are more likely to be noticed now than in the past because of increased tourism and the popularity of SCUBA diving."

The dreaded SCUBA!