60,000 crown-of-thorns starfish culled to safeguard Great Barrier Reef

Crown of Thorns Starfish
Matt Wright
Over 60,000 crown-of-thorns starfish have been culled in a Gillard Government project to protect precious coral on the Great Barrier Reef. Environment Minister Tony Burke said divers from the Association of Marine Park Tourism Operators have culled the coral eating starfish between Lizard Island and Cairns, as well as pockets in the Whitsunday.

The $1.43 million project began in August last year as a response to increased crown-of-thorn starfish sightings.

'The Gillard Government is committed to protecting the Great Barrier Reef as a top priority,’’ Mr Burke said.

'Research shows the crown-of-thorns starfish is one of the main culprits behind a serious decline in coral cover.

'These starfish occur naturally, but pollution and run off can lead to an explosion in their numbers. And when their numbers get out of hand week after week we witness them eating the reef.

'Long term the work of reef rescue is ensuring that run off and pollution into the reef reduces every years. But short term we need to have divers underwater injecting them and killing them.

'The Australian Institute of Marine Science published long-term data last year demonstrating coral cover on the Reef has declined by more than 50 per cent over the past 27 years — with outbreaks of crown-of-thorns starfish being a major contributor, just behind cyclones

'The divers have done a great job in culling more than 60,000 crown-of-thorns starfish, and that figure will only climb over the coming months as their efforts continue. Importantly, it means these starfish have also been prevented from entering the next spawning season.'

To cull crown-of-thorns starfish, divers inject the animal with sodium bisulphate — a biodegradable chemical considered harmless to other plants and animals on the Reef.

The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Association is overseeing the program and working closely with the Association of Marine Park Tourism Operators to determine which reefs need to be targeted based on information collected by the agency.

The Crown of thorns management program is one part of the Gillard government’s broader strategy to protect the Great Barrier Reef.

The Australian Government has funded a five-year $200 million Reef Rescue water quality improvement initiative to reduce the discharge of sediments, nutrients and pesticides from agricultural lands to the Great Barrier Reef lagoon.

The Government through the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Association is also working to reduce local pressures on the Reef through a range of activities including the highly successful Reef Guardians stewardship program which involves working with local communities, schools, councils, fishers and farmers to protect the Reef. There are now 293 schools involved in the Reef Guardians program.

Thirteen Reef Guardian Councils from Bundaberg to Cooktown, covering almost 320,000 square kilometres of the Great Barrier Reef coastal catchment, are undertaking more than 920 projects in land, water and waste management, climate change, community education and capacity building, which are helping to improve the resilience of the Great Barrier Reef.

The Australian and Queensland governments are also working together to undertake a comprehensive strategic assessment of the entire Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area which will set its direction over the next 25 years and create an agreed long-term plan to deal with the multiple threats facing the Reef.

The Australian Government is providing $12.4 million over four years for reef ecosystem research through the National Environmental Research Program’s Tropical Ecosystems Hub. Of this, the NERP is providing $3.6 million for water quality research aimed at better understanding the drivers and impacts of water quality on the biodiversity of the Great Barrier Reef.

http://www.environment.gov.au