Please select your home edition
Edition
Marine Resource 2016

Killer solution for the Crown of Thorns starfish

by ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies on 9 Oct 2012
Close up image of the Crown of Thorns Starfish. ARC Centre of Excellence Coral Reef Studies © http://www.coralcoe.org.au/
An Australia-based team of marine scientists has established what may prove an effective control for the dreaded Crown of Thorns starfish (COTS), which intermittently ravages coral reefs across the Pacific and Indian Oceans.

With signs that the starfish is building up for another huge attack in the Pacific and Australian region, their solution could come in the nick of time.

The researchers, from the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies (CoECRS) at James Cook University (JCU) have discovered that a harmless protein mixture used to grow bacteria in the laboratory can destroy the starfish in as little as 24 hours.

If subsequent tests show it is safe for other sea life, their breakthrough could yield a dramatic improvement in ability to control of COTS outbreaks, even if only to protect sites that are intensively used for tourism.

'A Crown of Thorns outbreak can destroy from 40-90 per cent of the corals on a reef. Over the past 50 years it has caused more damage than bleaching,' says Dr Jairo Rivera Posada 'There were massive outbreaks in many countries in the 1960s and 1980s – and a new one is well underway on the Great Barrier Reef.'

Dr. Posada, who trained as a vet before switching to marine research, was on the beach with Professor Morgan Pratchett of CoECRS at Lizard Island in the Northern Great Barrier Reef when he wondered if the substance he was using in the lab to selectively culture the Vibrio bacteria that naturally inhabit the starfish could give the bugs enough of a boost to damage their host.

Rushing back to their tanks, they quickly injected five starfish with the media culture solution – made from carbonates and proteins extracted from animal tissues – and were astonished when the starfish rapidly began to fall apart and die as the bacteria attacked them.

'I was only hoping to impair their immune systems – so the fact that they died so quickly was a great surprise,' Jairo says.

Looking more closely, the researchers found that the solution had caused the bacteria to bloom and attack the starfish; at the same time the starfish suffered an acute allergic reaction to the unfamiliar animal proteins (mainly derived from cattle). Furthermore, the bacteria also spread under favourable conditions to other starfish which came in contact or close to the infected individual.


This ‘double whammy effect caused by an otherwise harmless protein mixture has opened up the possibility of developing a safe, convenient and fast way of killing Crown of Thorns starfishes, explains Professor Morgan Pratchett of CoECRS and JCU.

'In developing a biological control you have to be very careful to target only the species you are aiming at, and be certain that it can cause no harm to other species or to the wider environment. This compound looks very promising from that standpoint – though there is a lot of tank testing still to do before we would ever consider trialling it in the sea.'

Prof. Pratchett says starfish outbreaks in the vicinity of specific tourist sites are currently controlled using a poison injection delivered by a diver – but we need to find more effective and efficient control methods if we are to scale-up control programs.

Dr. Rivera adds that the protein solution needs only a single jab into a starfish, enabling a diver to kill as many as 500 Crown of Thorns in a single dive – compared with 40 or so using the poison injection. Nevertheless, stopping an established outbreak of millions of starfish will not be feasible. It is already too late to stop the current outbreak, they say.

'In the current COTS outbreak in the Philippines they removed as many as 87,000 starfish from a single beach. This gives you an idea of the numbers we have to deal with,' he adds. Other fresh COTS outbreaks have been reported from Guam, French Polynesia, Papua New Guinea, and the central Indian Ocean.

The team is about to embark on extensive testing to establish the technique is safe for use around corals, fish, other types of starfish, sea urchins and sea cucumbers.

They are also exploring other natural parasites and disease-causing organisms for controlling Crown of Thorns, as well as simple protein injections which trigger a fatal allergic reaction. However, any attempts to control these outbreaks will be futile without also addressing the root cause of outbreaks, including loss of starfish predators as well as increased nutrients that provide food for larval ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies website

Wildwind 2016 660x82Barz Optics - San Juan Worlds Best EyewearBakewell-White Yacht Design

Related Articles

Terry Kohler, driving force of North Technology dies at 82
Terry Kohler who purchased North Sails was the driving force behind the North Technology Group, has died aged 82 Terry Kohler who purchased North Sails from Lowell North over 30 years ago and was the driving force behind the North Technology Group, has died aged 82. With the combined company of North sails and Southern Spars, Kohler created the 'Engine above the Deck' concept which married the technology used to build the sails and spars to be designed and work as an integral unit.
Posted on 21 Sep
'Grate Art' in Hong Kong
Hong Kong charity pioneers environmental awareness through innovative storm grate installations In an effort to help Hong Kongers play their part in protecting the world’s ocean, Ocean Recovery Alliance is raising awareness through a unique public art installation called ‘Grate Art’. Hong Kong’s drainage system is one of the main sources for debris outflow into the ocean, and Ocean Recovery Alliance is tackling this problem upstream through an initiative that uses “art for awareness”.
Posted on 14 Sep
Zhik sailors win 17 sailing medals at 2016 Olympic Regatta
The 2016 Olympic games are over and what a Games they have been - Zhik sailors dominated Zhik sailors won almost 60% of the medals contested at Rio de Janeiro. It was a regatta which tested sailors and gear - with one day being the most severe conditions ever experienced at an Olympic regatta. For the Zhik team riders on the waters of Rio, four years and more of hard work and dedication have paid off for many.
Posted on 29 Aug
Rio official murdered ten months before the Olympics
Rio de Janeiro is a troubled city and a reeling Olympic host, but it will always have beautiful Guanabara Bay. Does an unsolved murder of an official in Rio in charge of cleaning up Guanabara Bay say a lot about the state of platy in the magical city? Priscilla Pereira was murdered 10 months ago and the thinking is that she was murdered in relation to her work
Posted on 31 Jul
WHO statement on Zika virus
The third meeting of the EC convened by the Director-General under IHR 2005 regarding microcephaly and Zika virus The third meeting of the Emergency Committee (EC) convened by the Director-General under the International Health Regulations (2005) (IHR 2005) regarding microcephaly, other neurological disorders and Zika virus was held by teleconference on 14 June 2016, from 13:00 to 17:15 Central European Time.
Posted on 16 Jun
Atlantic Cup 2016 - a race with an environmental commitment
The Atlantic Cup continues to further its mission for the 2016 race by examining the global economic impact of the ocean The Atlantic Cup continues to further its mission for the 2016 race by examining the global economic impact of the ocean and how an unhealthy ocean can affect the economy.
Posted on 7 Apr
Zika virus situation report
From 1 January 2007 to 16 March 2016, Zika virus transmission was documented in a total of 59 countries and territories. From 1 January 2007 to 16 March 2016, Zika virus transmission was documented in a total of 59 countries and territories. Cuba and Dominica are the latest to report autochthonous (local) transmission of Zika virus on 14 and 15 March, respectively. Five of these countries and territories reported a Zika virus outbreak that is now over.
Posted on 2 Apr
Have Norway scientists solved the Bermuda Triangle mystery?
The Bermuda Triangle has been said to have claimed numerous ships and aircraft over the years The Bermuda Triangle has been said to have claimed numerous ships and aircraft over the years, and everything from aliens to remnants from the lost island of Atlantis have been fingered as the culprits.
Posted on 15 Mar
Cyclone Winston Relief Fund – Help the people of Fiji
Sea Mercy is sending volunteer fleet of small and large vessels, loaded with shelter, food and medical supplies to Fiji. Sea Mercy is once again sending our volunteer fleet of small and large vessels, loaded with shelter, food, water and medical supplies and teams to Fiji.
Posted on 27 Feb
Flying Scot Atlantic Coast Champs - Hanson Medals awarded for rescues
US Sailing Safety at Sea Committee awarded the Arthur B. Hanson Rescue Medals to eight boats for their heroic efforts The US Sailing Safety at Sea Committee awarded the Arthur B. Hanson Rescue Medals to eight boats for their heroic efforts when a microburst storm hit the 2015 Flying Scot Atlantic Coast Championship, hosted by the Blackbeard Sailing Club, in New Bern, NC on September 12.
Posted on 2 Feb