Great Barrier Reef Could Be Protected From Starfish By Sea Snails

Posted: Aug 19 2016, 8:43am CDT | by , in Latest Science News


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Great Barrier Reef Could be Protected from Starfish by Sea Snails
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  • Australia’s Great Barrier Reef could be Protected from Starfish by Sea Snails

It looks like Australia’s Great Barrier Reef could be protected from an onslaught of destructive starfish by sea snails.

Aussie researchers are busy investigating whether the odor of a natural predator can send millions of crown-of-thorns starfish (COTS) scurrying away from the Great Barrier Reef.

This species of starfish has been labeled as Acanthaster planci. They are endemic in the reefs of the Indian and Pacific Oceans. These COTS represent the biggest threat to coral reefs after cyclones.

Their external skin is covered in many poisonous spikes. COTS tend to feed on coral until a calcium carbonate skeleton is left behind, according to BBC.

In the period from 1985 to 2012, these COTS were the cause of the deaths of 42% of corals off the coast of Australia. The starfish are especially dangerous since their populations can explode into the millions thereby making them a grave threat to corals.

They resemble locusts in this trait of theirs. There are occasions where they simply multiply like rabbits and become a scourge that is hard to eliminate. One such outbreak occurred in 2015 and it resulted in 7 million COTS feeding viciously and voraciously on the coral along the Great Barrier Reef.

A single COTS can devour 10 square kilometers of coral on an annual basis. This spells trouble. The problem is that once the coral is destroyed, it does not regrow. It is gone forever.

Currently, the starfish are killed by lethal injections delivered by divers. This is a slow and painstaking process. While it can work on a small scale, at the level of the Great Barrier Reef, such an approach is virtually impossible.

An army of divers would be needed and such a stance is unfeasible. The costs alone make it a herculean task.

The Pacific Triton may come in handy here. It is a large sea snail that has a gorgeous shell. It is in fact the only natural predator of the COTS.

Being a denizen of the same region as the COTS, it can rapidly devour many COTS in a jiffy along with their venomous spikes. What the researchers are looking towards with avidity is the scent of this snail, which repels the COTS very effectively.

COTS are able to detect a sea snail in the vicinity. They retreat at the signs of this natural predator. This scheme may work like farmers employing scarecrows to ward off the avian pests that ruin their crops.

The sea snails could be brought into contact with the COTS and later on taken back. When needed, they could be re-utilized for warding off the COTS.

The ultimate dream of the scientists is to synthesize the scent of the tritons in chemical form so as to use it whenever they please. It is a project that just might be successful in the future.

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<a href="/latest_stories/all/all/20" rel="author">Sumayah Aamir</a>
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