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Power of attraction may help protect Great Barrier Reef

In a breakthrough, scientists have found a new way that could help protect Australia’s iconic Great Barrier Reef by using the powers of attraction to decimate one of the reef’s fiercest enemies.

Researchers at the University of Queensland in Australia have revealed that crown-of-thorns starfish gather in large numbers due to a release of pheromones — a scent they have decoded so the prickly pests can be lured to their capture.

Gluttonous starfish

“For an already struggling Great Barrier Reef, and indeed any reefs across the Indo-Pacific region, these starfish pose an enormous threat due to the ability of a single female to produce up to 120 million offspring in one spawning season,” said Professor Bernard Degnan, who led the study.

“They feast on the coral and leave it bleached white and vulnerable to destruction in heavy storms,” said Prof. Degnan.

Millions of dollars have been spent over many years on a variety of ways to capture crown-of-thorns starfish, whether it be via diver collection, injections or robotics.

Eco-friendly baits

“Now we have found the genes the starfish use to communicate, we can begin fabricating environmentally safe baits that trick them into gathering in one place, making it easier to remove reproductively-primed animals,” Prof. Degnan said.

The research was published in the journal Nature.

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