Innovations in COTS control on the GBR

Suzanne Long
Led by: Dr Suzanne Long, RRRC


Project Summary

For decades, crown-of-thorns starfish (COTS) research effort has been fragmented and failed to inform improvements in the effectiveness of COTS control. However, under the NESP Tropical Water Quality Hub’s Integrated Pest Management (IPM) research program, a more collaborative and targeted approach has harnessed research effort and enabled delivery of significant improvements in effectiveness and efficiency of COTS control, while also looking to develop methods for the future. Wholescale adoption of this IPM approach by the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA) and operators is already demonstrably saving live coral cover on the Great Barrier Reef (GBR).


Project Publications
Case Study
Synthesis Report


Project Video


Project Description

Since 2015, the NESP TWQ Hub has contracted a series of six projects to develop an integrated pest management program for COTS control. In addition, the IPM involved much effort and coordination from government agencies (GBRMPA, QPWS), industry groups (AMPTO) and various commercial providers who undertake the on-ground control program. The COTS control program has now attracted $58M investment from the federal government through the Reef Trust Partnership with the Great Barrier Reef Foundation, allowing it to operate with significantly increased capacity well beyond the current investment seen during the term of the NESP.

Given the size of the on-ground control investment and its future beyond the current NESP lifespan, it is important to utilise the knowledge and expertise developed during the NESP to guide and advise future control and planning activities. In addition, the topic of COTS control has sometimes been controversial, largely due to its being a relatively recent innovation not well understood beyond those heavily involved in the program. Thus it is crucial that the outcomes and benefits of the program, are communicated widely. As such, the proposed synthesis includes significant effort on developing communication products for the general public and undertaking substantial stakeholder engagement. The synthesis may, where identified as important, analyse existing data that make a beneficial contribution to the synthesis.


The objectives and outcomes of this project are to:

  • Synthesise the NESP TWQ Hub funded research that has informed the crown-of-thorns starfish decision support tools and strategies;
  • Provide a summary of future research and activities required for on-ground investment especially that required to provide a rapid response to future COTS outbreaks;
  • Evaluate the potential role of COTS control in the Reef Restoration and Adaptation Science (RRAS) program managed through the Reef Trust Partnership with the Great Barrier Reef Foundation (GBRF);
  • Inform the GBRMPA and GBRF in planning for COTS investments under the Reef Trust Partnership (RTP);
  • Consider how the coordination and implementation of the current program can be translated to pest management situations in other marine environments (e.g. sites managed by Parks Australia);
  • Summarise the benefits and success of the COTS traineeship program;
  • Identify any data analysis and knowledge gaps arising during final analysis and engagement with end-user groups;
  • Utilise the data collected to inform innovation and management actions; and
  • Capture the process by which this complicated and multi-disciplinary research program has achieved such impact.

The synthesis project will have the capacity to draw together information from projects across the entire scope of the NESP TWQ Hub, plus external non-NESP derived information where relevant.


Outcomes from the following NESP TWQ Hub projects will inform the synthesis products:

  • Project 1.1: Establishing the future NESP COTS research framework including and ecologically-based approach to the management of COTS at multiple scales.
  • Project 2.1.1: Integrated pest management of crown-of-thorns starfish.
  • Project 3.1.1: Implementation of the crown-of-thorns starfish research strategy: regional strategies.
  • Project 4.1: Crown-of-thorns starfish: surveillance and life history.
  • Project 5.1: Matching the COTS IPM to the scale of the new control program.
  • Project 4.5: Guidance system for resilience-based management of the Great Barrier Reef.

The synthesis project will also provide commentary on how the methods applied in the COTS IPM could be used in Commonwealth Marine Park reef systems if the need arises. In addition, existing literature will contribute to the development of an integrated management framework for the detection, control and adaptive management of crown-of-thorns starfish outbreaks, including Reef-wide risk modelling. The technical synthesis will have recommendations for an early warning system.


The outputs from this synthesis will include:

  • A detailed synthesis report outlining the key findings of the NESP COTS research program
  • A shorter plain-English summary of the above for a general audience
  • Visual products designed to explain the COTS control program to the general public
  • Any other data synthesis or workshop outcome documents as produced during the course of the synthesis and stakeholder engagement process


NESP 2017 Research Priority Alignment

This project aligns with NESP 2017 Research Priority: Improved understanding of the impacts, including cumulative impacts, and pressures on priority freshwater, coastal and marine ecosystems and species (Theme 1)

This project aligns with TWQ Hub 2018 Research Priority 1. Supporting direct interventions in the marine environment.


Project Keywords

Crown-of-thorns starfish; COTS; Integrated pest management; Great Barrier Reef.


Project Funding

This project is jointly funded through CSIRO, JCU, AIMS, UQ and the Australian Government’s National Environmental Science Program.


Project Publications