Australian scientists develop culture to destroy reef-killing starfish

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Crown-of-Thorns starfish near Qamea Island in Fiji.
Image: Matt Wright.

Following a study linking poisonous crown-of-thorns starfish to 42 percent of Australia's Great Barrier Reef destruction in recent decades, James Cook University Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies in Queensland has developed a culture to destroy the reef-killing starfish, announced yesterday. The researchers have carried out successful trials of the culture against the starfish.

The culture is a beef extract similar to Bovril, the ABC (Australian Broadcasting Corporation) reported.

The culture is expected to replace a manual treatment of the problem, involving a poison injection delivered by a diver to each starfish. One of the researchers, Jairo Rivera Posada, stressed urgency and scale of the threat: "In the current outbreak in the Philippines they removed as many as 87,000 starfish from a single beach".

The researchers said the culture infects a starfish with bacteria that kill it within just 24 hours and spread by contact with other individuals of the species. This means divers would need to inject just one starfish to infect and destroy many individuals living close to each other.

The researchers recommended addressing the problems behind starfish outbreaks: "Any attempts to control these outbreaks will be futile without also addressing the root cause of outbreaks, including loss of starfish predators as well as increased nutrients that provide food for larval starfishes" referring to the agricultural run-off along the reef coast.

The researchers concluded the culture works and needs testing of its impact on other sea species.