What is the long-term strategy?

The long-term strategy is to protect live coral cover and the integrity of the ecosystem from crown-of-thorns starfish outbreaks.

This involves understanding the causes of outbreaks and, if possible, trying to prevent them. It also includes early surveillance and detection to allow faster responses to outbreaks and to reduce their spread, with the ultimate aim of reducing the impact of outbreaks. This will give the Reef greater capacity to recover.

Given a new outbreak is firmly underway, the primary objective for management and research in 2014–2017 is to preserve coral cover and to learn as much as we can from the current outbreak by testing improved methods for detection and manual control. Efforts will focus on reefs of high-ecological value, crown-of-thorns starfish 'spreader reefs' and prime tourism sites.

We are also developing a long-term integrated management framework with a range of partners, incorporating past and current research. This will be the overarching management strategy needed to understand and address the drivers behind outbreaks, use early surveillance and detection, and implement timely responses.

The framework, based on an integrated pest management approach, will also coordinate and identify resource needs to prepare for outbreaks or prevent them where possible.

The framework will be used during outbreak and non-outbreak periods to strengthen the Reef’s resilience over coming decades.

A significant amount of research on crown-of-thorns starfish is being undertaken by:

Initiatives such as the Reef Water Quality Protection Plan and the Australian government’s Reef Programme aim to improve water quality and are expected to reduce the long-term risk to the Reef ecosystem from the crown-of-thorns starfish. There are early indications that these programs are successfully improving the quality of water leaving the catchment.

Measures under the Australian government’s Reef 2050 Plan also aim to improve the quality of water entering the Reef over the longer term, further limiting the ability of the starfish to thrive in its larval stage.

A network of zones in the Marine Park also protects and conserves the biodiversity of the ecosystem, providing a key strategy for improving the Reef's health and resilience.