Photo: ARC Centre of Excellence Coral Reef Studies

Vinegar kills crown of thorns starfish

HOUSEHOLD vinegar could soon be called on for its most important mission yet: saving the Great Barrier Reef. Researchers at Queensland’s James Cook University have described in a new paper the effectiveness of vinegar in killing crown of thorns starfish. Outbreaks of the venomous, coral-eating animals are considered one of the most significant threats posed to the Great Barrier Reef.

The paper’s lead author Lisa Bostrom-Einarsson said vinegar had been used to try to kill the starfish before, but JCU scientists had refined the process, resulting in a 100 percent kill rate. Ms Bostrom-Einarsson said divers currently used 10-12ml of ox bile to kill each individual crown of thorns starfish. “It’s expensive, requires permits and has to be mixed to the right concentration,” she said. “We used 20ml of vinegar, which is half the price and can be bought off the shelf at any local supermarket.”

Ms Bostrom-Einarsson said in the JCU lab trials, all specimens were dead within 48 hours of being injected. She said the next step, to begin by the end of the year, would be large-scale field trials to ensure the process was safe for other marine life. “There’s no reason to think it won’t work or it’ll be dangerous, but we have to be sure,” she said.

She said the findings could have big implications for developing countries which don’t have the means to acquire and use current drugs. Ms Bostrom-Einarsson said killing off one starfish at a time wasn’t an effective way to save coral reefs by itself, but it was the only method available. She said divers managed to kill about 350,000 on the Great Barrier Reef last year with two full-time boat crews, but there were estimated to be about four to 12 million starfish on the reef, with each female able to produce about 65 million eggs in a single breeding season.

“While it would take an insane effort to cull them all that way, we know that sustained efforts can save individual reefs,” Ms Bostrom-Einarsson said.

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