Millions of Crown of Thorns starfish have been found looming around in the central portion of the Great Barrier Reef, threatening to wipe out potential growing and multiplying presence of beautiful corals.
Researchers from the Catlin Seaview Survey, a new Australian-led coral reef research project whose objective is to conduct exploration about life on the deep reef and its hidden world, found that the number of Crown of Thorns starfish have grown since the worst flood that hit Queensland two years ago.
Still in its early project stages, the Catlin researchers said that the multitude of Crown of Thorns starfish, a large multi-armed starfish that usually preys upon hard, or stony, coral polyps, resulted from the huge quantities of agricultural fertilisers that were discharged into the Pacific Ocean triggered by the Queensland flood.
And its number from millions could turn into billions what with seawater's acidity level getting more acidic due to fossil-fuel emissions and growing sea temperatures. Freak weather events which seem to grow more each year likewise add up to the dilemma as it washes greater amounts of sediment off shore and into the ocean.
For the Catlin Seaview Survey, researchers will utilize aquatic scooters to check on 20 separate sub-reefs that make up a section of the Great Barrier, as well as a high-resolution panoramic camera to take 50,000 images. Researchers hope to disclose the results of their findings over the coming months.
"Over 90 per cent of the Great Barrier Reef was pretty much unexplored, which is an amazing fact," Ove Hoegh-Guldberg, the project's chief scientist, said. "Now with these deep-diving robots and some of the technology we are developing, the potential is there for unlocking those secrets."
Although much has been discovered in its early stages, the researchers fear what they saw could be their last.
"That does go into your head when you are photographing and filming the reefs. Pretty much every time we go out we find either new species or new species records - species we did not know Australia had. But I always have in my mind what my professors told me: that when they were my age and dived these reefs 20 or 30 years ago, they looked completely different. That is a pretty scary thought - that when you go down there you might be the first person to see these things, but also one of the last," Dr Pim Bongaerts, head of the deep-reef research team, said.