Snails new weapon in crown of thorns bat­tle

Townsville Bulletin - - NEWS -

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.

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