A NEW outbreak of coral-eating crown of thorns starfish is "a ticking time bomb" on the Great Barrier Reef, according to World Wildlife Fund-Australia.
Of the reefs surveyed by the Australian Institute of Marine Science this year, 29% have crown of thorns outbreaks - three times the level recorded in 1988 when they caused widespread destruction.
"Reports this week show 72% of the reef's hard coral has died since the 1960s, so to see a new wave of crown of thorns starfish is coming is particularly concerning," WWF spokesperson Nick Heath said.
"These starfish in plague numbers can devastate the reef."
The Reef Scientific Consensus Statement released this week confirmed a new outbreak was under way. It estimated that in the past 25 years, 35% of the reef's coral cover had been lost to crown of thorns starfish.
"The Reef Scientific Consensus Statement found that cutting nitrogen run-off was the priority management action to protect coral, as nitrogen feeds crown of thorns larvae which then explode in numbers and spread across the reef.
"If we don't cut fertiliser run-off in the wet tropics we don't save the reef."
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