Skip to main content

The Crown-of-thorns Crisis in Australia: A Retrospective Analysis

  • Richard A. Kenchington (a1)

The Crown-of-thorns Starfish (Acanthaster planci) was perceived to be a threat to coral reefs of the Indo–West Pacific region partly as a consequence of new technology, in the form of SCUBA diving, becoming generally available. It took some years, however, for field practices to be developed which employed the new technology effectively in sampling such a phenomenon over large areas.

In Australia an emotional environmental campaign followed the publication of a report to the Queensland Government in 1969, which claimed that the Starfish was a major threat to the Great Barrier Reef, that it was probably Man-induced, and that it could be controlled. The report was neither adopted nor rejected in the period of more than a year which elapsed between its submission and its publication. As the public campaign gained momentum, official inquiries reviewed and questioned the data-base of the initial report but no attempt was made to devise, test, or implement, a more acceptable sampling procedure until 1973. In retrospect it is suggested that an early practical initiative to assess and remedy claimed defects of the initial sampling programme, would have removed the element of speculation which led to considerable heat in the Crown-of-thorns debate in Australia.

The recommendation of the official inquiries resulted in the establishment of a trust fund to give special support to research into the problem. The research thus conducted materially increased understanding of the phenomenon, but it has been claimed that vital areas of investigation were omitted, and the value of such special support has been questioned. It is suggested here that the special problems and expense of research into the ecology of remote reefs would have precluded almost all research into the Crown-of-thorns Starfish and its effects without such ad hoc support. However, it is further suggested that more direct management of the programme would have coordinated research effort and made more effective use of the facilities and support available.

Hide All
Barnes, J. H. & Endean, R. (1964). A dangerous starfish Acanthaster planci (Linnè). Med. J. Aust., 1, p. 592.
Brown, T. & Willey, K. (1972). Crown of Thorns: Death of the Great Barrier Reef. Angus & Robertson, Sydney, Australia: 128 pp., illustr.
Bradbury, R. H. (1976). Letter. Search, 7, p. 461.
Carson, Rachel (1962). Silent Spring. Houghton Mifflin, Boston, Massachusetts: 368 pp., illustr.
Cheney, D. P. (1973). An analysis of the Acanthaster control programs in Guam and the Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands. Micronesica, 9, pp. 171–80.
Chesher, R. H. (1969). Acanthaster planci: Impact on Pacific Coral Reffs. Westinghouse Electric Corporation Report to the U.S. Department of the Interior, Document No. PB187631, Washington, D.C.: 151 pp.
Commoner, Barry (1967). Science and Survival. Gollancz, London, England: 120 pp.
Cornell, J. & Surowiecki, J. (Ed.) (1972). The Pulse of the Planet: A State of the Earth Report from the Smithsonian Institution Center for Short-lived Phenomena. Thomas Nelson, London, and Crown, New York, N.Y.: 129 pp.
Dana, T. F. (1970). Acanthaster: A rarity in the past. Science, 169, p. 894.
Endean, R. (1969). Report on Investigations Made into Aspects of the Current Acanthaster planci {Crown-of-thorns) Infestations of Certain Reefs of the Great Barrier Reef. Fisheries Branch, Queensland Department of Primary Industries, Brisbane, Australia: 35 pp., mimeogr.
Endean, R. (1974). Acanthaster planci on the Great Barrier Reef. Proc. 2nd Int. Coral Reef Symp., pp. 563–76.
Endean, R. & Chesher, R. H. (1973). Temporal and spatial distribution of Acanthaster planci population explosions in the Indo–West Pacific region. Biol. Conserv., 5, pp. 8795.
Endean, R. & Stablum, W. (1975). Population explosions of Acanthaster planci and associated destruction of hard-coral covers of reefs of the Great Barrier Reef, Australia. Environmental Conservation, 2(4), pp. 247–56, 7 figs.
Frankel, E. (1975). Acanthaster in the past: Evidence from the Great Barrier Reef. Crown-of-thorns Starfish Seminar Proceedings, Brisbane 6 September 1974. Australian Government Publishing Service, Canberra, Australia: pp. 159–66.
Frankel, E. (1977). Previous Acanthaster aggregations in the Great Barrier Reef. Proc. 3rd Int. Coral Reef Symp., pp. 201–8.
Glynn, P. W. (1973). Acanthaster: Effect on coral-reef growth in Panama. Science, 180, pp. 504–6.
Glynn, P. W. (1974). The impact of Acanthaster on corals and coral reefs in the Eastern Pacific. Environmental Conservation, 1(4), pp. 295304, 4 figs.
Goreau, T. F. (1963). On the predation of coral by the spiny starfish Acanthaster planci (L.) in the southern Red Sea. Sea Fish. Res. Stat. Haifa Bull., 35, pp. 23–6.
Head, S. M. & Ormond, R. G. F. (in press). A platform as a base for coral reef studies. Handbook of Coral Reef Research Methods (Ed. Stoddart, D. R. & Johannes, R. E.). Unesco, Paris.
Kenchington, R. A. (1976). Acanthaster planci on the Great Barrier Reef: detailed surveys of four transects between 19° and 20° S. Biol. Conserv., 9, pp. 165–79.
Kenchington, R. A. (1977). Growth and recruitment of Acanthaster planci on the Great Barrier Reef. Biol. Conserv., 11, pp. 103–18.
Kenchington, R. A. & Morton, B. (1976). Two Surveys of the Crown-of-thorns Starfish over a Section of the Great Barrier Reef. Australian Government Publishing Service, Canberra, Australia: v + 187 pp., illustr.
Lucas, J. S. (1973). Reproductive and larval biology of Acanthaster planci in Great Barrier Reef waters. Micronesica, 9(2), pp. 197203.
O'Gower, A. K., Bennett, Isobel & Mcmichael, D. F. (1972). Crown-of-thorns: A report to the Great Barrier Reef Committee. Search, 3, pp. 202–4.
Pearson, R. G. (1974). Recolonization by hermatypic corals of reefs damaged by Acanthaster. Proc. 2nd Int. Coral Reef Symp., pp. 207–16.
Pearson, R. G. (1975). Recolonization by hermatypic corals of reefs damaged by Acanthaster. Crown-of-thorns Starfish Seminar Proceedings, Brisbane 6 September 1974. Australian Government Publishing Service, Canberra, Australia, pp. 127–30.
Pearson, R. G. & Endean, R. (1969). A preliminary study of the coral predator Acanthaster planci (L.) (Asteroidea) on the Great Barrier Reef. Fisheries Notes, Queensland Dept Harbours and Marine, 3, pp. 2755.
Pearson, R. G. & Garrett, R. N. (1976). Acanthaster planci on the Great Barrier Reef: General surveys 1972–1975. Biol. Conserv., 9, pp. 157–64.
Porter, J. W. (1972). Predation by Acanthaster and its effect on coral species diversity. Amer. Nat., 196, pp. 487–92.
Porter, J. W. (1974). Community structure of coral reefs on opposite sides of the Isthmus of Panama. Science, 186, pp. 543–5.
Talbot, F. H. (1971). Comment. Search, 2, pp. 192–3.
Thomson, J. M. (1976). Marine Biology. The Australian University, 14, pp. 114–22.
Walsh, R. J., Day, M. F., Emmens, D. W., Hill, D., Marty, D. F., Rogers, W. P. & Waterhouse, D. F. (1970). Report on Acanthaster planci (Crown-of-thorns Starfish) and the Great Barrier Reef. Australian Academy of Science Report, No. 11, 20 pp., illustr.
Walsh, R. J., Harris, C. L., Harvey, J. M., Maxwell, W. G. H., Thomson, J. M. & Tranter, D. J. (1971). Report of the Committee on the Problem of the Crown-of-thorns Starfish (Acanthaster planci). Commonwealth Government Printing Office, Canberra, Australia: 45 pp.
Walsh, R. J., Harvey, J. M., Maxwell, W. G. H. & Thomson, J. M. (1976). Report on Research Sponsored by the Advisory Committee on Research into the Crown-of-thorns Starfish. Australian Government Publishing Service, Canberra, Australia: 35 pp.
Wass, R. C. (1973). Acanthaster population levels and control efforts on Ponape, Eastern Caroline Island. Micronesica, 9, pp. 167–70.
Wilson, B. R. & Marsh, L. M. (1974). Acanthaster studies on a Western Australian coral reef. Proc. 2nd Int. Coral Reef Symp., pp. 621–30.
Yamaguchi, M. (1974). Growth of juvenile Acanthaster planci (L.) in the laboratory. Pacific Science, 28(2), pp. 123–38.
Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

Environmental Conservation
  • ISSN: 0376-8929
  • EISSN: 1469-4387
  • URL: /core/journals/environmental-conservation
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *


Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed