MORE than 60,000 crown-of-thorns starfish, one of the biggest threats to the Great Barrier Reef, have been culled since August last year.
Divers have culled the coral-eating starfish between Lizard Island and Cairns as well as pockets in the Whitsunday, Environment Minister Tony Burke revealed on Thursday.
The divers, from the Association of Marine Park Tourism Operators, inject the starfish with sodium bisulphate, a biodegradable chemical considered harmless to other plants and animals on the reef.
Scientists do not have estimates on how many crown-of-thorns starfish are affecting the reef, but research shows it is “one of the main culprits behind a serious decline in coral cover”.
Long-term data published last year by the Australian Institute of Marine Science showed coral cover on the reef had declined by more than 50% over the past 27 years, with crown-of-thorns starfish outbreaks the major contributor behind cyclones.
The $1.43 million culling project was launched last year in response to increased crown-of-thorn starfish sightings.
“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,” Mr Burke said.
“Importantly, it means these starfish have also been prevented from entering the next spawning season.”
Pollution and run-off are known to cause a numbers explosion in crown-of-thorns starfish, which occur naturally.
“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,” he said.
The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Association is overseeing the culling program and working closely with the Association of Marine Park Tourism Operators to determine which reefs need to be targeted.
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