A common household ingredient may help conservationists win the fight against a destructive starfish that is wreaking havoc across the Great Barrier Reef.
In recent decades, crown-of-thorns starfish have decimated coral across the reef. The starfish naturally occur in low numbers throughout the Indo-Pacific, feeding on coral and forming an important part of marine ecosystems under normal circumstances.
Several times in recent decades, however, crown-of-thorns starfish numbers have skyrocketed, leading to harmful coral overconsumption that takes decades to reverse. According to a 2012 study from the Australian Institute of Marine Science, crown-of-thorns starfish were one the top causes of coral losses over the past three decades.
Scientists aren't sure exactly what has caused the repeated starfish outbreaks, although a leading theory links crown-of-thorns population growth with the availability of phytoplankton, a key source of nutrition for starfish larvae.
Thus far, controlling the booming population has proved to be difficult. "Divers use 10 or 12 ml of ox-bile to kill each . It's expensive, requires permits and has to be mixed to the right concentration," James Cook University scientist Lisa Bostrom-Einarsson explains in a news release.