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New crown-of-thorns outbreak hits reef

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January 05, 2018

The Great Barrier Reef is under threat from an outbreak of coral-eating starfish.

An outbreak of crown-of-thorns starfish has appeared near the southern end of the Great Barrier Reef.

The severe outbreak of the notorious coral-eater has hit the Swain Reefs - which extend from Gladstone to Rockhampton - further south than usual outbreaks of the species between Townsville and Cooktown.

Field officers started culling crown-of-thorns starfish in the Swain Reefs before Christmas and are continuing surveillance this month.

Divers inject starfish with a compound of sheep and cattle stomach bile causing a fatal allergic reaction, killing the starfish with its poisonous spines dropping off.

Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority's director of education, stewardship and partnerships Fred Nucifora said it was "concerning" to have an outbreak this far south.

"The Great Barrier Reef is under pressure and protecting coral cover is important for the health of the broader ecosystem, along with other actions to build the resilience of the Reef," Mr Nucifora.

Crown-of-thorns outbreaks had been occurring off the Queensland coast since the 1960s and were responsible for 25 per cent of live coral loss until mass bleaching hit in 2012.

The news comes as a team of international scientists warned of the increase in coral bleaching due to higher water temperatures in a new report published in the journal Science.

The study, which analysed 100 global reef locations from 1980 to 2016, shows the time between coral bleaching is too short to make a full recovery.

Townsville-based Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies director Terry Hughes said bleaching has caused "unprecedented damage" to the Great Barrier Reef including back-to-back events in 2016 and 2017.

"We hope our stark results will help spur on the stronger action needed to reduce greenhouse gases in Australia, the United States and elsewhere," Professor Hughes said.

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