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Australia scientists tackle coral killing crown-of-thorns starfish

SYDNEY--An Australian research team said Monday they have found an effective way to kill the destructive crown-of-thorns starfish, which is devastating coral reefs across the Pacific and Indian oceans.

The discovery by James Cook University's Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies in Queensland state comes after a study showed the Great Barrier Reef had lost more than half its coral cover in the past 27 years.

Outbreaks of the large, poisonous and spiny starfish, which feast on coral polyps, was linked to 42 percent of the destruction.

Researchers said they have developed a culture that infects the starfish with bacteria and can destroy them in as little as 24 hours.

The bacteria also spreads to other starfish that come near or into contact with an infected individual.

The next step will be tests to see if it is safe for other marine life, particularly fish.

“In developing a biological control you have to be very careful to target only the species you are aiming at, and be certain that it can cause no harm to other species or to the wider environment,” said Morgan Pratchett, a professor at the center.

“This compound looks very promising from that standpoint — though there is a lot of tank testing still to do before we would ever consider trialing it in the sea.”

Outbreaks around tourist sites in Australia are currently controlled using a poison injection delivered by a diver to each starfish.

If the new culture is found to be safe, it would only need a single jab into one starfish, enabling a diver to kill as many as 500 of the creatures in a single dive.

Another scientist from the centre, Jairo Rivera Posada, said that over the past 50 years the starfish had caused more damage to reefs than bleaching.

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