READY, SET ESCAR-GO

RAIS­ING SHELL Snails on trail to save Great Bar­rier Reef

The Courier-Mail - - FRONT PAGE - EX­CLU­SIVE MATTHEW KILLORAN

A GI­ANT sea snail is be­ing bred up to try to save our world fa­mous Great Bar­rier Reef from the dev­as­tat­ing crownof-thorns starfish.

The Fed­eral Gov­ern­ment has launched world-first re­search to breed thou­sands of rare gi­ant tri­ton sea snails, which de­vour (be­low) the star starfish – one of the key causes of co­ral loss on the nat­u­ral won­der.

A RARE gi­ant sea snail is be­ing touted as the life-sav­ing preda­tor that will res­cue one of the won­ders of the nat­u­ral world, the Great Bar­rier Reef.

World-first re­search into the crown-of-thorns starfish out­break threat­en­ing the Reef will today re­ceive fed­eral fund­ing, in the hope of pro­tect­ing one of Aus­tralia’s big­gest tourist at­trac­tions.

The crown-of-thorns is one of the lead­ing causes of co­ral loss on the Reef, with up to 150,000 of the pests able to spread across just one square kilo­me­tre dur­ing an out­break.

New re­search has found that the rare sea snail, hunted al­most to ex­tinc­tion, could be the an­swer to the starfish out­break. The gi­ant tri­ton snail, wh ich grows to al­most half a me­tre, eats the starfish but its pres­ence also causes them to flee. The Fed­eral Gov­ern­ment will today in­vest $568,000 for world-first re­search and a two-year trial into the rare snails. More than 100,000 snail lar­vae have al­ready hatched. En­vi­ron­ment Min­is­ter Josh Fry­den­berg said if suc­cess­ful, tri­ton snails could be used to dis­perse the starfish – which ap­pear to “flee” from the preda­tor – and pre­vent them from breed­ing.

“This new project builds on the suc­cess of Aus­tralian In­sti­tute of Marine Sci­ence re­search that found the crown-of-thorns starfish avoids ar­eas where tri­ton sea snails are present,” he said.

AIMS re­search man­ager Dr David Souter said the snails were so rare, al­most noth­ing was known about them, in­clud­ing their re­pro- duc­tive bi­ol­ogy or life cy­cle.

“We’re look­ing at how long they take to grow to ma­tu­rity and the po­ten­tial for a breed­ing pro­gram,” he said.

Dr Souter said any even­tual re­lease of more snails on the Great Bar­rier Reef would be un­der tightly con­trolled cir­cum­stances to avoid a cane­toad-type sit­u­a­tion, in which the so­lu­tion be­comes worse than the orig­i­nal prob­lem.

A re­cent re­port found the Reef is worth $56 bil­lion to the econ­omy and sup­ports 64,000 full­time jobs.

PRICKLY CUS­TOMER: A gi­ant tri­ton sea snail de­vours a crown-of-thorns starfish.

Gi­ant tri­ton sea snails grow to about half a me­tre long

They are so rare al­most noth­ing is known about their life cy­cle

Named af­ter the Greek god Tri­ton, son of the sea god Po­sei­don

They eat and re­pel crown-of-thorns starfish

The Great Bar­rier Reef is worth $56 bil­lion to Aus­tralia’s econ­omy and sup­ports 64,000 full­time jobs

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