Australian Researchers Develop And Deploy Remote Controlled Crown-Of-Thorns Sea Star Killer

Coral reefs are being devastated by crown-of-thorns sea stars.

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Views of the robotic submarine designed to seek and destroy the crown-of-thorns sea star. Photo by Queensland University of Technology in Australia
John Virata

The crown-of-thorns sea star, one of the most aggressive sea stars in the world known for its insatiable appetite for corals, just might have met its match. Well, not exactly, but scientists have started to employ a robotic submarine with a killer detection and injection system in an effort to reduce the populations of these sea stars, which have incidentally exploded due to our desire for creatures that eat these sea stars.

At Queensland University of Technology in Australia, a group of researchers led by Matthew Dunbabin and Peter Corke spent the last decade working on a weaponized robotic submarine that searches out, seeks and destroys crown-of-thorns sea star.

The robotic submarine, called the COTSBot and in development for the last 10 years, was designed to combat the crown-of-thorns sea star. The sub weighs 30 kg and moves at 2 meters per second and can dive for six hours. That is pretty good for a remote sub, but the beauty of this device is its capability to specifically seek out the crown-of-thorns sea star and inject it with a sea star killing  poison made of thiosulfate, citrate, bile salts and sucrose agar. Once injected, the sea star is killed within 24 hours rendering the sea star unrecognizable by the sub. The detection system has been refined to achieve a 99 percent positive detection rate. And while the deployment of these robotic vessels won’t kill all the crown-of-thorns sea stars on coral reefs in the Indo-Pacific and elsewhere, a small army could conceivably make a positive difference, one reef at a time.

John B. Virata has been keeping fish since he was 10 years old.  He currently keeps an 80 gallon cichlid tank, a 20 gallon freshwater community tank and a 29 gallon BioCube with a Percula clown, a huge blue green chromis, and a firefish all in his kitchen, and a 55 gallon FOWLR tank with a pair of Ocellaris clowns, two blue green chromis, a six line wrasse, a peppermint shrimp, assorted algae and a few aiptasia anemones in his living room. Follow him on Twitter @johnvirata

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