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Great Barrier Reef: Starfish Destructive to Coral Could Be Stopped With Household Vinegar

Sep 24, 2015 06:19 PM EDT
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Simple household vinegar could be used to combat destructive Crown of Thorns Starfish (CoTS) that destroy coral reefs. Injecting vinegar into the coral-eating pests kills them just as effectively as the current expensive and scarce drug.

CoTS breed at high rates along the Great Barrier Reef and are one of the primary reasons for reef decline. Using vinegar has been used unsuccessfully before, but James Cook University scientists have refined the process, succeeded in having a 100 percent kill rate within a single 48 hour trial, according to a news release.

"Currently divers use 10 or 12 ml of ox-bile to kill each CoTS. It's expensive, requires permits and has to be mixed to the right concentration. We used 20 ml of vinegar, which is half the price and can be bought off the shelf at any local supermarket," Lisa Boström-Einarsson, lead author of the study, said in the release.

During their lab trials, researchers also discovered that fish fed off of the dead CoTS with no harm caused to them. But further field test are required to make sure the method is safe for all marine life, Boström-Einarsson notedSea trials of this new vinegar method are expected to begin at the end of the year.

"It has been estimated there are between four and 12 million of the starfish on the Great Barrier Reef alone – and each female produces around 65 million eggs in a single breeding season. They managed to kill around 350 000 last year with two full-time boat crews. While it would take an insane effort to cull them all that way, we know that sustained efforts can save individual reefs," Boström-Einarsson added.

Researchers note that killing the starfish individually can't save the entire reef by itself but it's just one step toward reducing CoTS outbreaks along the reef.

The findings were recently published in the journal Coral Reefs.

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