The Great Barrier Reef May Still Have a Chance to Survive

The Great Barrier Reef is not only affected by climate change. There are still other pests which continue to damage it. After trying to find a solution to save the Great Barrier Reef from dying out, scientists finally came up with an idea. Researchers indicate that if you want to get rid of a pest, you need to find something that feeds on it. Therefore, they will use the giant triton snail to save the situation.

On September 18th, the environment ministry in Australia announced that they would make a $450,000 investment in research that will last for two years. The new scheme will protect the Great Barrier Reef from parasites. At the moment, the crown-of-thorns starfish is threatening the coral reef. These creatures caused a lot of damage during the last 30 years.

The crown-of-thorns starfish is eating the Great Barrier Reef

Researchers indicate that the population of crown-of-thorns starfish usually boosts on a cycle of eight years. The dangerous starfish appears to eat the coral. Mike Hall studies the crown-of-thorns starfish at the Australian Institute of Marine Science. He indicates that these marine creatures are able to deform their stomach, getting it outside their mouth and covering the surface of a dinner plate. Next, the starfish will eliminate certain juices to digest the corals. After digesting them, the starfish moves on to the next one.

These dangerous marine creatures leave behind the white skeleton of the coral. Specialists indicate that the best they can do to save the coral reef is to send divers to the reef to inject chemicals in starfish and cause their death. However, this thing will take a lot of time, and they are too many to handle. Therefore, they thought about using the giant triton snail.

This snail has a foot-and-a-half long shell, being one of the largest ones on the planet. Furthermore, the most interesting part is that this creature is one of the few natural predators of the starfish. However, things are not as simple as we imagine. The best way to solve the problem is to use all the giant triton snails to kill the starfish. Unfortunately, this species of snail is on the verge of extinction, just like the Great Barrier Reef.

The triton snail is on the verge of extinction

These snails were overfished for decades, due to the popularity for their huge shells. Therefore, during the 1960s, scientists enlisted them as an endangered species. Half a century later, this species is quite rare. Hence, the government decided to fund this research. The new study is developed by the Australian Institute of Marine Science. The main purpose is to learn how to raise these snails in captivity, helping their population to increase.

In this way, they will be able to annihilate the population of crown-of-thorns starfish, preventing it from eating the coral reef. Hall indicates that there are many high-risk reefs which need increased protection. Tritons may be their ‘special forces team’. Up to this point, researchers explain that the breeding process has been a great challenge. The Australian Institute of Marine Science has eight adult snails. The four females lay capsules that contain over 2,000 egg apiece.

Furthermore, the snails tend those pink egg capsules, using their foot to fetch them plankton and algae. Cherie Motti, a research scientist on the breeding team, claims that the eggs hatch as they should do. They release a baby form known as veliger. Nevertheless, the team did not register any other progress. They need a solution, and they need it quickly. Motti argues that at this point they managed to maintain the swimming larvae alive for over 60 days. However, they did not turn into snails. It is likely that their food preferences have altered. Perhaps, there may be environmental cues which boost adulthood that in captivity do not exist.

A big triton snail on a crown-of-thorns starfish

The giant triton snail can attack the starfish population, saving the coral reef.

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Imitating the scent of the triton snail might help

The team of researchers decided to work on another solution to overcome the high number of crown-of-thorns starfish. Divers reported that the starfish tend to swim away when it senses the giant snail nearby. The starfish has eyes at the end of each tentacle, and they pay attention to scent. Therefore, researchers want to replicate the scent of the giant snails to scare starfish away.

Therefore, the coral reef will be safe, and the starfish will also get distracted from reproducing. The stress on the Great Barrier Reef would be reduced. Jon Brodie is a coral reef scientist at the James Cook University. He indicates that the research regarding the triton snail would only try to address a symptom, but not the whole problem.

The main problems regarding the extinction of coral reefs relies on climate change and nutrient runoff from agriculture. However, at this point, researchers would have to spend a lot to try and solve the runoff problem. Brodie says that researchers should have taken action against this problem about two decades ago.

Nevertheless, the project including the giant triton snail is likely to take some time. Furthermore, Motti cannot estimate how long it will take them to successfully breed these snails. Brodie indicates that despite the disadvantages, the research is worth the try. Even if researchers started many projects that have a low chance of success, they keep working, hoping that they will change something.

The effect of climate change

Besides all these problems, let’s not forget about the effect of climate change. About 36 years ago officials declared the Great Barrier Reef to represent a World Heritage Area. Since then, human activity and climate change slowly deterred it. The main factors are warmer ocean temperatures and the effect of pesticides flowing into the water.

The biggest culprit is global warming, triggering a dangerous increase in water temperatures. Corals represent marine animals, getting their food and color from the food they ingest, like algae. Higher temperatures affect algae, determining the rich cues to disappear. The Climate Council, an Australian research body, indicated that the sea temperatures at the surface of the reef in 2016 were the hottest since they started recording it in 1900.

Summing up

The Great Barrier Reef is in danger, being stressed by climate change and crown-of-thorns starfish’ devastation. The damages are massive, and researchers did not yet find a useful solution to annihilate the starfish’s population. Policymaker should also boost the efforts of diminishing the terrible effects of global warming. Otherwise, the Great Barrier Reef will soon become a distant memory.

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William E. Eubanks
 

I'm one of the main writers on the site; mostly dealing with environmental news and ways to live green. My goal is to educate others about this great planet, and the ways we can help to protect it.

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