Thorny cure

Port Douglas & Mossman Gazette - - NEWS - by ANGELIQUE PAT­TER­SON

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.

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