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New weapon against the reef eaters

Date:
September 22, 2015
Source:
James Cook University
Summary:
A breakthrough has been made in the war against a deadly enemy of the Great Barrier Reef. The Crown of Thorns Starfish (CoTS) are breeding at epidemic levels and are one of the primary reasons for the decline in live coral. But a new paper shows injecting the coral-eating pest with simple household vinegar kills it just as effectively as the current drug, which can be expensive and difficult to source.
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James Cook University scientists in Australia have made a breakthrough in the war against a deadly enemy of the Great Barrier Reef.

The Crown of Thorns Starfish (CoTS) are breeding at epidemic levels and are one of the primary reasons for the decline in live coral.

But a new paper shows injecting the coral-eating pest with simple household vinegar kills it just as effectively as the current drug, which can be expensive and difficult to source.

Lead author Lisa Bostrom-Einarsson said vinegar had been tried unsuccessfully before, but JCU scientists refined the process which resulted in a 100% kill rate.

Ms Bostrom-Einarsson said the findings were exciting. "Currently divers use 10 or 12 ml of ox-bile to kill each CoTS. It's expensive, requires permits and has to be mixed to the right concentration. We used 20 ml of vinegar, which is half the price and can be bought off the shelf at any local supermarket."

The CoTS in the JCU trial were all dead within 48 hours of being injected.

Ms Bostrom-Einarsson said the dead CoTS were fed on by fish in the lab trials with no ill-effect, but this needed to be backed up by large-scale field trials to be sure the process is totally safe for other marine life. "There's no reason to think it won't work or it'll be dangerous, but we have to be sure," she said.

She said the findings could have big implications for developing countries without the means to acquire and use the current drugs.

Scientists say while the process may greatly help slow down the CoTS outbreak, killing the starfish individually was never going to save coral reefs by itself.

"It has been estimated there are between 4 and 12 million of the starfish on the Great Barrier Reef alone and each female produce around 65 million eggs in a single breeding season. They managed to kill around 350 000 last year with two full-time boat crews. While it would take an insane effort to cull them all that way, we know that sustained efforts can save individual reefs," Ms Bostrom-Einarsson said.

She said other researchers were working on population-level controls of the animal, but killing the starfish one-by-one was the only method available at the moment.

Sea trials of the vinegar method will begin by the end of the year.


Story Source:

Materials provided by James Cook University. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Lisa Boström-Einarsson, Jairo Rivera-Posada. Controlling outbreaks of the coral-eating crown-of-thorns starfish using a single injection of common household vinegar. Coral Reefs, 2015; DOI: 10.1007/s00338-015-1351-6

Cite This Page:

James Cook University. "New weapon against the reef eaters." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 22 September 2015. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/09/150922150043.htm>.
James Cook University. (2015, September 22). New weapon against the reef eaters. ScienceDaily. Retrieved May 25, 2017 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/09/150922150043.htm
James Cook University. "New weapon against the reef eaters." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/09/150922150043.htm (accessed May 25, 2017).

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