Environmental officials from Australia are willing to try everything to safe the Great Barrier Reef. Therefore, they thought of releasing a snail which feeds on starfish, and save the corals from getting overeaten by intrusive and constantly proliferating marine predators.
Starfish are avid predators of coral
Crown-of-thorns starfish are small predators which occur naturally in aquatic environments. However, intense pollution favorized their intense breeding, so their numbers have risen at an unusual speed in the Great Barrier Reef. This is bad news for the endangered corals, as the starfish feed on them, and can have a serious negative impact on the ecosystem.
In 2012, researchers started analyzing how starfish affected the coral population in the reef. Over the last 27 years, the area covered in corals was reduced by almost 50 percent. Also, researchers linked 42 percent of these serious damages to the intruding starfish.
Triton sea snails are one of the biggest enemies of starfish
Fortunately, the Australian environmental researchers made an encouraging discovery. The starfish have another animal they fear, namely the Pacific triton sea snail. These snails can reach even half a meter in length, and use their advanced sense of smell to hunt their prey. This represents a serious threat for the starfish, so they usually avoid the areas where the giant triton snails live.
Researchers also found some bad news. While they enjoy feasting on starfish, the snails are the preferred prey of human hunters, as they show great interest in their beautiful shell. Therefore, they decided to start an intense breeding program, sponsored by the Australian government, and then send these snail populations to protect the Barrier Reef from starfish.
Over the past month, the snails hosted at the Australian Institute of Marine Science have laid over 100,000 eggs, where many larvae hatched from. Unfortunately, the snails have grown so rare that researchers barely know anything regarding their evolution or life. Therefore, apart from growing a colony which can help the corals, researchers will also take a valuable insight in the life cycle of these snails.
“We really don’t know anything about them, what they eat, whether they’re nocturnal or not, and this is the first real attempt to breed them,” declared the researchers.
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