Snails new weapon in crown of thorns battle
GIANT starfish- eating sea snails are being bred in numbers to be unleashed as a biological weapon to save the Great Barrier Reef.
The crown- of- thorns starfish is one of the leading causes of coral loss on the Reef, and up to 150,000 of the pests can spread over just one square kilometre during an outbreak.
Now the Federal Government is funding world- first research into breeding rare giant triton sea snails, a natural predator of the starfish.
The sea snails, which can grow to 50cm, were almost hunted to extinction for their shells. While they have been a protected species since the 1960s, they remain rare.
The Government is spending $ 568,000 on research and a trial over two years, with more than 100,000 swimming snail larvae already hatched during the early stages of the project.
Environment Minister Josh Frydenberg said the snails could be used to disperse the starfish, which appear to flee from the predator and its secretions, and prevent them from breeding.
“This new project builds on the success of Australian Insti- tute of Marine Science research that found crown-ofthorns starfish avoid areas where triton sea snails are present,” Mr Frydenberg said.
AIMS research manager Dr David Souter said the snails were so rare, almost nothing was known about them.
“We’re looking at how long they take to grow to maturity and the potential for a breeding program,” he said.
Any eventual release of more snails on to the Great Barrier Reef would be done under tightly controlled circumstances, Dr Souter said.