THE crown of thorns starfish might no longer be a burden on the Great Barrier Reef with James Cook University researchers discovering a harmless protein mixture that destroys the pest in 24 hours.
The breakthrough came from the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies after lead researcher Dr Jairo Rivera Posada injected a starfish with the protein mixture, which was used in the lab to culture the Vibrio bacteria which naturally inhabits the starfish.
It has arrived as signs emerge of another huge attack in the Pacific and Australian region, including the reefs off of Port Douglas and Cape Tribulation, however, experts say it is too late to stop this current outbreak.
“A crown of thorns outbreak can destroy from 40 to 90 per cent of the corals on a reef - over the past 50 years it has caused more damage than bleaching,” Dr Jairo Rivera Posada said.
“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 said the aim of the research was to impair the immune system and was surprised with the reaction, which was caused by a combination of the bacteria growing and attacking the starfish to the starfish suffering an allergic reaction to the unfamiliar animal proteins, mainly derived from cattle.
The protein has also shown to spread to other crown of thorns starfish that come too close or in contact those infected and the next step of the research is making sure it does not spread to other marine life.
There will be more testing in tanks before they introduce the protein solution in the ocean to make sure it is safe to use around other types of starfish, fish, corals, sea urchins and sea cucumbers.
Dr Posada said the protein solution would kill a starfish with only one jab, allowing divers to kill over 500 in one dive, compared to the 40 presently killed per dive with a poison injection.
Research is still ongoing into finding a solution for and managing future COTS outbreaks.