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Crown-of-thorns starfish alert

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28 July 2006

Reef scientists have a new strategy in a campaign to retard the spread and impact of the crown-of-thorns starfish on the Great Barrier Reef.

Researchers from the AIMS Great Barrier Reef Long-term Monitoring Team will conduct special surveys of COTS populations on reefs in the source area, north of Cairns to Cooktown, to provide an early warning of another noxious wave of the coral eating pest.

The COTS Alert programme is one of the projects to be funded under the new Marine and Tropical Science Research Facility (MTSRF) funding regime which has granted $1.2 million for AIMS to continue its invaluable reef research. The Australian Minister for the Environment and Heritage, Senator Ian Campbell, announced the $40 million funding for MTSRF last week.

"This is an important step towards a better understanding of the many environmental challenges facing the Great Barrier Reef, the Torres Strait and our tropical rainforests including the Wet Tropics World Heritage Area, " Senator Campbell said.

"The Marine and Tropical Science Research Facility promises to ensure our future generations will be able to experience the majesty of Queensland's natural environment," said Mr Peter Lindsay, Federal Member for Herbert.

AIMS CEO Dr Ian Poiner said the projects funded focus on the long-term health of the GBR and address key environmental risks such as climate change and water quality.

He said the purpose of "COTS Alert" is to provide early warning of another decade-long series of outbreaks and provide the opportunity for more focused control of these pest populations at their source.

"Given that the last primary outbreaks were generated from this area around 16 years ago it is considered timely to institute an early warning system for a new wave of outbreaks.

"As the last two were separated by a similar time interval history suggests we are due for another round with this menace. This early warning will be of particular interest to the marine park tourism industry which will be able to prepare tactical responses," Dr Poiner said.

The surveys will identify the build up in adult densities as they reach the level required to spawn the secondary outbreaks that then cascade to other reefs both north and south of this region he said.

The MTSRF funding has provided the means for a number of other projects to proceed including a program to measure the impact of the GBR Zoning Plan upon reef biodiversity. Part of this project will examine the potential for community based monitoring of tourism intensive sites in order to foster the concept of local environmental stewardship.

Funding will also help progress the sponge aquaculture project in the Torres Strait. With growing international demand for natural bath sponges, there is potential for a commercial venture larger than cottage industry size. In collaboration with the Torres Strait regional Authority and the Yorke Island Council AIMS will examine environmental sustainability of a new commercial venture including general habitat risk from pollution, disease, invasions or sedimentation.

Dr Poiner said vital research into indicators of reef health and pollutant thresholds significant to water quality will also be advanced under the new funding regime. The scientific underpinning for a new reef health Report Card system will be established.

Media Contacts:

Dr Peter Doherty , Research Director

Phone: (07) 4753 4282

Mobile: 0418 469 770


Wendy Ellery , AIMS Media Liaison

Phone: 07 4753 4409

Mobile: 0418 729 265