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Giant sea snail plan to rescue Barrier Reef

A giant starfish-eating snail
could be unleashed to help
save the Great Barrier Reef,
officials said on Monday,
with a trial under way to
breed thousands of the rare
Predatory crown-ofthorns
starfish, which
munch coral, are naturallyoccurring
but have proliferated
due to pollution and
run-off at the struggling
World Heritage-listed ecosystem.
Their impact has
been profound with a major
study of the 2,300-km long
reef’s health in 2012 showing
coral cover halved over
the past 27 years, with 42%
of the damage attributed to
the pest.

Hunting by scent

Now, Australian Institute of
Marine Science (AIMS) research
has shown they avoid
areas where the Pacific triton
sea snail — also known as
the giant triton — is present.
The snails, which can
grow to half a metre, have a
well developed sense of
smell and can hunt their
prey by scent alone.

Research showed they
were particularly fond of
crown-of-thorns, but only
eat a few each week, and
with the snail almost hunted
to extinction for their shells,
there are not many left.

This led the government
to announce on Monday
funding to research breeding
them. “The possibilities
the triton breeding project
opens up are exciting,” said
Queensland federal MP Warren
Entsch. “If successful,
this research will allow scientists
to closely look at the
impact of giant tritons on
crown-of-thorns behaviour
and test their potential as a
management tool to help reduce
coral lost to outbreaks.”
Giant tritons held at
AIMS have laid numerous
egg capsules. But they are so
rare, almost nothing is
known about their life cycle.

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