Great Barrier Reef under threat: Return of the killer starfish
THE Great Barrier Reef is on the brink of another outbreak of the coral-devouring crown of thorns starfish and Cairns tourism operators are calling on the Federal Government to support their efforts to stop the pest.
The starfish is the biggest threat to the Reef because they eat their size in coral cover every day – and some weigh as much as 80kg, executive director of the Association of Marine Park Tourism Operators, Col McKenzie, said.
Hundreds of crown of thorns starfish have been found on reefs off Cairns, near Lizard Island, Green Island and Opal Reef off Port Douglas, he said.
"We’re at the very start of another outbreak," Mr McKenzie said.
"We want to get early action – if we don’t it will get worse."
Australian Institute of Marine Science research director Dr Peter Doherty said conditions were ripe for another outbreak because major floods prompt increased spawning of crown of thorns starfish.
"We feel at this time there is a real and renewed threat of new outbreaks," he said.
"We have certainly seen an abundance in the number of crown of thorns starfish in the Cairns sector of the Great Barrier Reef."
Past outbreaks have started on reefs near Cairns and spread to the southern tip of the Reef, Dr Doherty said.
There have been three major crown of thorns starfish outbreaks on the Great Barrier Reef in the past 40 years, he said. Another outbreak is particularly concerning because coral cover on the Reef is at its lowest point since the institute began keeping records in 1985.
Mr McKenzie is drafting a letter to send to Federal Environment Minister Tony Burke to request $1.2 million for an intensive three-year eradication program.
Cairns tourism operators have invested $1.7 million since 2010 to fight the invasive species in collaboration with the State Government, which has contributed $2.5 million.
The money has been used to train crown of thorns control divers, who injecting sodium bisulphate into the invasive pest to kill them.
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Threat: The Great Barrier Reef is on the brink of another outbreak of the coral-devouring crown of thorns starfish.