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Corals get respite from Crown-of-thorns

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16 February 2007

Recent "early warning" surveys suggest a crown-of-thorns starfish outbreak is not an imminent threat to corals on the Great Barrier Reef.

Researchers from the Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS) Great Barrier Reef Long-term Monitoring Team have been undertaking surveys of reefs between Cairns and Cooktown which are thought to be the source of the coral eating pest.

The surveys were funded in part by the COTS Alert programme, one of the programs under the Australian Government's new Marine and Tropical Science Research Facility (MTSRF) funding regime which has granted $1. million for AIMS to continue its research in the Great Barrier Reef.

AIMS project leader, Dr Hugh Sweatman, said the purpose of "COTS Alert" is to provide early warning of another decade-long series of outbreaks and to provide the opportunity for tactical responses and more focused control of these pest populations at their source.

"Since the crown-of-thorns starfish first came to public attention in the 160s, new waves of outbreaks have appeared in the region north of Cairns about every 15 years.

"The last wave of outbreaks was first detected in that area around 15 years ago, so history suggests we are due for another cycle of COTS outbreaks," Dr Sweatman said.

The COTS move in waves down the Great Barrier Reef, originating in the region just north of Cairns. The last wave of outbreaks has now reached reefs as far south as the Whitsundays. Dr Sweatman says lack of evidence for another outbreak is promising as the corals will have longer to recover.

"Our recently completed surveys targeting northern, mid-shelf reefs detected only COTS on 4 reefs."

The extensive surveys did not find any evidence of aggregations of adult starfish that might initiate another wave of outbreaks.

Dr Russell Reichelt from the Reef and Rainforest Research Centre said "this information from AIMS is good news for reefs already being impacted by climate change and declining water quality."

The COTS Alert programme will continue to monitor for potential outbreaks and keep the tourism industry and management agencies informed of findings.

"Climate change and water quality impacts on coral reefs are also being investigated under the MTSRF. Findings from MTSRF projects will be synthesised to provide an up to date indication of the resilience of the Great Barrier Reef to such threats," Dr Reichelt said.


Media contacts:

Dr Hugh Sweatman, AIMS Senior Research Scientist

Telephone: 07 4753 4470

Mobile: 0419 986 746


Wendy Ellery, AIMS Media Liaison

Telephone: 07 4753 4409

Mobile: 0418 729 265


Andrew Lloyd , DEH.Acting CERF Director

Telephone : 02 6274 2589


Prof Russell Reichelt , Managing Director RRRC

Mobile : 041784120