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Estimates of the abundance of the spawning stock of Crown-of-Thorns Starfish on the northern Great Barrier Reef in 2013-14 and reflections on the effectiveness of starfish control

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dc.contributor.author Doherty, Peter (PJ)
dc.contributor.author Coleman, Greg (G)
dc.contributor.author Logan, Murray (M)
dc.contributor.author MacNeil, M Aaron (MA)
dc.date.accessioned 2015-12-21T23:53:08Z
dc.date.accessioned 2017-03-21T01:02:33Z
dc.date.accessioned 2018-11-01T03:06:45Z
dc.date.available 2015-12-21T23:53:08Z
dc.date.available 2017-03-21T01:02:33Z
dc.date.available 2018-11-01T03:06:45Z
dc.date.issued 2015-06-30
dc.identifier.citation Doherty P, Coleman G, Logan M, MacNeil MA (2015) Estimates of the abundance of the spawning stock of Crown-of-Thorns Starfish on the northern Great Barrier Reef in 2013-14 and reflections on the effectiveness of starfish control. Report for the Department of the Environment, Australian Government. Australian Institute of Marine Science, Townsville (47 pp) en_US
dc.identifier.uri http://epubs.aims.gov.au/11068/11445
dc.description.abstract Summary: In 2011-2012, numerous outbreaks of Crown-of-Thorns Starfish (COTS) were detected on the northern Great Barrier Reef from reefs between Lizard Island (14.7oS) and Cairns (16.9oS). By August 2012, the Association of Marine Park Tourism Operators (AMPTO) with support from the Australian Government began control actions eliminating starfish aggregations between these latitudes. From November 2012, the control program was guided by surveys done by the GBRMPA-QPWS Field Management Program (FMP). We have analysed data from several sources, but especially the comprehensive FMP surveys between November 2012 and March 2014, to estimate the size of the 2013-14 spawning stock. We found starfish during this period to be abundant in the northern half of the shelf between Cairns and Lizard Island. Using three data streams (manta-tows, timed-swims, RHIS (Reef Health and Impact Survey)-counts), we estimated that reefs north of Cape Tribulation (16oS) were holding 4.6 million coral-eating starfish; in contrast to 0.6 million starfish from a comparable area south of Cape Tribulation. By July 2014, two years of control over the full domain had culled over 300,000 starfish representing less than 10% of the potential spawning stock. Meanwhile surveys in the last six months of 2014 detected new outbreaks in the southern subregion as well as substantial residual populations of starfish at sites of historical control actions. We found no evidence of effective control of starfish numbers at the regional scale and there is a risk that partial control will convert acute outbreaks into chronic infestations; creating perverse outcomes for coral cover. Currently the risk of this outcome is unknown. In 2015, with at least five million starfish spread over mid-shelf reefs along 2.5 degrees of shelf, we recommend the focus of control should be the effective defence of local sites through repeated visits instead of responding to emerging hotspots. The first priority for intensive control is the sites most valuable to mass tourism, followed by the best reservoirs of coral brood stock on the same reefs. Beyond that the priority should be reservoirs of coral brood stock on reefs without tourism assets but with potential to replenish regional coral cover after the current starfish outbreaks have subsided. Finally, we propose that early intervention is the key to dampening the future impact of COTS outbreaks on coral cover in the central GBR. This strategy can only start when this native pest has again returned to a rare state in the source area north of Cooktown. It requires annual surveillance of 40-50 key reefs for the purpose of suppressing primary outbreaks before they are able to spawn the first wave of secondary outbreaks. en_US
dc.description.sponsorship Funded by Caring for our Country grant en_US
dc.language.iso en en_US
dc.publisher AIMS en_US
dc.rights Attribution 3.0 Australia
dc.rights.uri http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/au/
dc.title Estimates of the abundance of the spawning stock of Crown-of-Thorns Starfish on the northern Great Barrier Reef in 2013-14 and reflections on the effectiveness of starfish control en_US
dc.type report en_US


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