Hungry Coral-Eating Starfish Is Destroying Australia's Great Barrier Reef

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The Great Barrier Reef of Australia is at serious at risk of total damage if crown-of-thorns starfish will continue to eat through the coral.

Authorities have started culling procedures to prevent the spread of the coral-killing marine animals and save the reef. At least 37 sections of the Swaine Reef located at 100 kilometers to 250 kilometers, or about 328 to 820 feet off the coast between Gladstone and Rockhampton are affected by the outbreak of the coral-eating starfish.

Killer Outbreak Of Coral-Eating Marine Animals

The trigger of the recent outbreak is still unclear but authorities offer a few theories, including the presence of extra nutrients in the water.

"It may be caused by nutrient upwelling from deep ocean waters, but that's still yet to be proven," says Fred Nucifora of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Authority.

Starfish are known to contribute to the reef's diversity by eating faster-growing coral species, allowing slower-growing species to thrive. However, the crown-of-thorns starfish are eating way much faster than the corals can reproduce.

How Deadly Starfish Damages The Coral?

Each starfish damages the coral through spreading its stomach on the coral and releasing digestive enzymes that dissolve the coral tissues. The predator crown-of-thorns starfish eat corals about the same size of its body diameter each night. If there are thousands of starfish in the affected area, the effects are indeed damaging.

Since marine authorities started a control program to prevent the predator starfish in 2012, they have culled more than 600,000 starfish from the north and central reef areas.

This starfish outbreak has struck the Great Barrier Reef that is still reeling from two consecutive years of major coral bleaching. In 2016, the reef was damaged by the worst ever coral bleaching that killed two-thirds of a 700-kilometer stretch of reef.

When the water temperature is too warm, corals expel the algae living in their tissues causing them to become white. Corals do not die from a bleaching event but become more stressed due to rising ocean temperatures. Episodes of coral bleaching have become alarmingly frequent to a point that the reef does not have enough time to recover.

Last year, to restore the health of the coral reef, experts attempted to stimulate the growth of new corals using a technique known as "larval reseeding."

What's The Great Barrier Reef?

The Great Barrier Reef covering 348,000 kilometers is the world's largest coral reef comprising over 3,000 individual reef systems. It contains abundant marine life like sharks and rays, marine turtles, and marine mammals. It is considered as the most extensive coral reef ecosystem on the planet.

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