Implementing an ecologically-based operational strategy for crown-of-thorns starfish control on the Great Barrier Reef

Cameron Fletcher

Crown-of-thorns starfish (COTS) are a major threat to coral on the Great Barrier Reef (GBR) and across the Indo-Pacific. Of the increasing threats faced by the GBR, such as physical damage due to increased cyclone severity or bleaching due to rising ocean temperatures, COTS are the only threat amenable to immediate control. Implementing management strategies that can reduce the impacts of COTS at ecologically-meaningful levels is vitally important to conserving coral cover and fostering the overall resilience of the GBR.

To achieve this under NESP, we designed decision tools to support a control program that: 1) targeted effort at high priority locations at an intensity sufficient to preserve coral cover; 2) provided a solid ecological underpinning for control program decisions; 3) allowed each key decision to be made by on-water staff and managers from the control program data itself; and 4) could robustly generate ecologically-meaningful outcomes even when some management and population processes could not be estimated accurately ahead of time.

This presentation will outline the decision tools we designed, how they were implemented on-water, how they have generated significant outcomes for the resilience of the GBR, and their effectiveness at controlling COTS populations at regional scales on the GBR.