Senate hears current culling program having positive effect

PAYING farmers to help them cut down chemical run-off remains the most strategic thing to do to stop the crown of thorns starfish on the Great Barrier Reef, a Senate estimates hearing was told on Tuesday.

Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority chief executive Russell Reichelt said the current starfish culling program was having a positive effect on the reef.

The self-confessed former sceptic of culling programs, Mr Reichelt said a team of 16 divers had so far killed about 100,000 starfish since the program started.

However, despite the widespread infestation, there were no official estimates of how many starfish were actually on the reef.

He said he was convinced the program was making a difference on the reef, with "no doubt their type of intervention will protect areas of hundreds of hectares" of high value coral reefs.

But Mr Reichelt also said the community had also come to accept the extent of the starfish infestation was also due to the chemical run-off from coastal farms.

He said programs such as the $200 million Reef Rescue initiative, which contributed to farmers cutting sediment run-off, was "the most strategic thing to get at the cause" of the starfish infestations.

Mr Reichelt said it was likely the starfish culling program could be expanded to other areas, with more information showing where starfish were breeding.

He said the program could in the future target the breeding areas in the wet tropics in a pre-emptive effort to help eradicate the starfish.

But he said the run-off of chemicals and nutrients such as nitrogen were effectively feeding the starfish, emphasising the need to address water quality on the reef.

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