News & Media Releases

PNG-Australian border villages adapting to climate change: Making smart toilets a microbusiness

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A finished Ranger Family Toilet



Key points:


  • The Treaty Villages are a string of small fishing villages along the south coast of Papua New Guinea less than 4km from Australian territory and suffer from severe development barriers
  • The Building Resilience in the Treaty Villages (BRTV) Program, a joint Australian-PNG culturally-based Community Rangers program that provides vital community-building skills like first aid, sanitation, construction and leadership
  • Community Rangers have established a microbusiness for the construction of cheap, sustainable and flood-proof toilets that are especially effective in the Treaty Villages, which have no sewerage systems and are frequently affected by climate change-induced sea level rise and extreme flood events
  • These toilets are greatly improving sanitation, health and economic outcomes for the villages


An Australian Government-backed development program operating in the borderlands between Australia and Papua New Guinea has established a local toilet manufacturing business that is both improving sanitation and increasing the self-sufficiency of local communities in the face of climate change impacts.

The Building Resilience in Treaty Villages (BRTV) Program, an innovative aid development program operated by the Reef and Rainforest Research Centre (RRRC) and supported by the Australian and Papua New Guinean governments, is changing lives in the Treaty Villages through the skilling of Community Rangers, who undertake vital building and services in the Treaty Villages.

The Treaty Villages are a string of 13 communities along the coast of South Fly Province, less than four kilometres from Australia’s Torres Strait islands of Saibai and Boigu.

Community Ranger candidates are selected from among the villages by local elders, and undergo training and operations by location training organisation INLOC in a wide variety of community-building skills including first aid, construction, sanitation, timber, boat handling, disaster response, leadership, business skills and information technology.

Since the BRTV program was established in 2015, Community Rangers have constructed or repaired dozens of new buildings, established thousands of litres worth of clean water storage and have responded to hundreds of first aid incidences, including many life-threatening situations.

One of the key objectives of the BRTV program is for the skills developed to mature into small business and financial self-sufficiency.

Rangers have established a microbusiness that answers a demand for sanitary, self-contained toilets in the Treaty Villages, where there is a major risk of sewage contaminating groundwater used for drinking due to king tide inundation linked to climate change.

Rangers are producing and installing two types of Urinary Diversion Dry Toilets (UDDTs) – which separate liquid and solid human waste into different storage containers – the Ranger Community Toilet, for use at public facilities like schools and aid posts, and the Ranger Family Toilet for use by family groups.

The toilets are 100 per cent locally produced by the rangers, including the cast-concrete bowls which are cured with coconut oil and all building materials.

INLOC CEO Dave Rutherford said the Ranger Toilets were another example of how the BRTV program was innovating to produce results on the ground in the climate-change-affected Treaty Villages.

“You can’t put in regular pit toilets because the combination of the floods and these king tides – which are a climate change impact – means that the sewage gets into the water table which contaminates the all groundwater drinking sources and also overflows the pit toilets and spreads sewage through the whole village,” he said.

“This is why the UDDT-style Ranger Toilets are the way to go, they isolate the sewage from the water table so there’s no risk of contamination during flood events. Because the rangers can build them completely from scratch it means they don’t have to wait or pay for anything to be shipped in, so they’re ideal.

“Good sanitation underpins the entire health system of a community, especially one with limited access to modern medical services like the Treaty Villages, so what the toilets represent is an innovation against climate change impacts and also a grassroots community-led microbusiness.”

RRRC managing Sheriden Morris said the BRTV program was enabling the Treaty Villages to adapt to the impact of climate change.

“These are communities right next door to Australia where you really see climate change impacts and adaptation to those impacts happening in real-time, whether it’s new toilets to deal with contamination from the king tides or new crops to deal with the droughts,” she said.

“Climate change isn’t theoretical at all for the Treaty Villages – it’s a real life-or-death situation for them.”

Sheriden also highlighted the importance of the BRTV program’s ‘aid development’ approach in a northern Australian context.

“The Community Ranger model is one we have adapted from ranger programs in Indigenous communities in Northern Australia, so we are really leveraging Australia’s tropical expertise for this program. The approach is based on providing community-building skills and training to boost resilience of challenged communities and provide opportunities for self-reliance.

“It’s very important to remember that the Treaty Villages represent Australia’s closest neighbour, they are our borderlands. What impacts them impacts Australia, especially northern Australia.

“In supporting their village leadership through their work, the Community Rangers are enabling the Treaty Villages to take control of their own future.”

Member for Mabaduan Local Level Government Peter Papua said the program was a ‘great opportunity’ for the Treaty Villages.

“I am very supportive of the ranger program because it is helping develop economic opportunities here in the villages as well as a lot of other benefits,” he said.

“The rangers are doing good work for their communities, helping them grow and improve their health and economy.”

Adapted from a successful indigenous scheme operating in northern Australia, the Building Resilience in Treaty Villages (BRTV) program is supported by the Australian Government and aims to increase the self-reliance of 13 coastal villages in Papua New Guinea’s South Fly District covered under the Torres Strait Treaty.

Managed by the Cairns-based Reef and Rainforest Research Centre and implemented by INLOC, the BRTV program involves the recruitment and training of people living in remote villages to enable locals to drive change in their communities.

For more information about the Building Resilience in the Treaty Villages Program, visit the RRRC website at

Download a PDF version of this media release here.

IMAGES (All images must be attributed to the Reef and Rainforest Research Centre):

Bula Village Community Rangers Dorothy, Obie and Monica assembling a Ranger Toilet. One third of the Community Rangers are female


Rangers constructing Urinary Diversion Dry Toilet seats for use in Ranger toilets. Community Rangers locally source as many materials as possible to reduce cost


The concrete toilet bowls are cured using coconut oil


RRRC welcomes appointment of new GBRMPA CEO

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The Reef and Rainforest Research Centre welcomes the announcement of the new Chief Executive Officer of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA).

RRRC Managing Director Sheriden Morris said strong regional leadership for the Great Barrier Reef is crucial.

“This is a challenging time for the Great Barrier Reef as the Reef recovers from climate induced back-to-back mass coral bleaching in parts of the northern section of the Reef. Recent efforts to address threats such as Crown-of-Thorns Starfish outbreaks, declining water quality, fishing management and shipping risks, also need to continue and be enhanced into the future,” she said.

“The role of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority in managing this natural icon has never been more critical than it is today. There is enormous benefit in having the GBRMPA based in North Queensland. Local conditions and approaches can be better considered in making decisions about the management of the Reef.

This means Reef industries, the science community, Traditional Owners, local councils and interested stakeholders should grasp the opportunity to work closely with GBRMPA to help secure the future of the Reef.

“We are looking forward to working with GBRMPA’s new CEO in its important role in managing the future of the Great Barrier Reef.”


Media contact:
Boyd Robertson: (07) 4050 7400 / 04 5814 4909 /


Download a PDF version of this media release here.

Jellyfish ‘early warning system’ to help avoid deadly stingers in FNQ

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Stings from venomous box jellyfish common in tropical waters are highly painful and can be fatal.

The ability to predict when higher concentrations of jellyfish – known as ‘smacks’ – appear is an attractive prospect to scientists, surf lifesavers and tourism operators alike.

NESP Tropical Water Quality Hub scientists have studied where and when swimmers in Australia’s northern tropical waters are most likely to be stung by Irukandji box jellyfish like Carukia barnsei and Malo kingi.

Over three years, Dr Scott Condie at CSIRO and his research team from JCU and UQ have established an Australian Venomous Jellyfish Database (AVJD), now publicly available on the eAtlas database, which brings together data on jellyfish sightings and stings from a wide variety of sources including scientific research, Surf Lifesaving clubs and hospital records.

Wind direction was found to be the most important the factor affecting where and when stings occurred. Slow north-westerly winds corresponded to more stings than conditions with strong south-easterly winds. Tide height was also found to be important, with more stings occurring at low tide.

“These relationships are key to making sting risk forecasts, similar to current fire danger rating forecasts, which can be made available to lifesavers, tourism operators and the general community,”, said Dr Condie.

The project also focused on refining and expanding jellyfish monitoring. Box jellyfish are usually tiny and transparent, making identifying them difficult.

As part of the project underwater camera rigs called ‘Jellycams’, which can automatically capture images of jellyfish that swim past them, were built and deployed at observation sites including Palm Cove and Yorkeys Knob in Cairns, and at The Strand and Magnetic Island in Townsville. The rigs also measured water temperature. Additionally, the team constructed easy-to-use jellyfish viewing boxes, which allow people untrained in jellyfish identification to capture a stinger, snap a photo on a smartphone and send it to an expert for identification.

Jellyfish viewing boxes developed under the NESP project. Unidentified jellyfish can be scooped into the container, where the black background allows an easy high-contrast photo from a smartphone, which can then be sent to an expert for a definitive identification. Pic: Scott Condie


Russell Blanchard, lifeguard supervisor for Surf Lifesaving Queensland’s North Barrier Branch in Townsville, said the two jellyfish viewing boxes provided by the project ‘had come in very handy’ for volunteer surf lifesavers.

“We’ve used them multiple times already – they are beneficial to volunteer surf lifesavers, who don’t necessarily have the same experience identifying jellyfish by eye,” he said.

“As a whole our involvement in the project has been pretty beneficial, when we gather our own data on jellyfish we are usually dealing with limited areas, the researchers however have been collecting information from a much larger area which gives them a good picture of what the jellies are doing.”

Cairns-based Indigenous rangers also contributed to the research providing vital advice and assistance with fieldwork.

More information about the jellyfish project, including the final report, can be found on the National Environmental Science Program’s Tropical Water Quality Hub website.

Download a PDF version of this media release here.



PNG Ranger Training

PNG Ranger program builds resilience in Torres Strait Treaty Villages

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An excellent story from Papua New Guinea’s foremost paper The Post-Courier. Detailing the Building Resilience in the Treaty Villages Program, which is administered by the RRRC. The program is achieving major positive humanitarian outcomes in the Treaty Villages on PNG’s southern border:

nitrogen forum

Nitrogen forum brings water quality scientists and cane farmers together

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In a step forward for Great Barrier Reef water quality, scientists and Far North Queensland cane growers will come together to discuss the latest innovations in nitrogen-based fertilizer management to protect both Great Barrier Reef and the sustainability of the sugar cane industry.

Excess nitrogen in water flowing out from the Queensland coast can significantly impact the health resilience of the Great Barrier Reef. Reducing levels of nitrogen in Reef catchment water is a key objective for both water quality scientists and cane farmers, who use nitrogen-based fertilizers to promote the growth of their cane crops.

The inaugural Innovative Nitrogen Use in Sugarcane Forum, to be held November 7-8 at the Reef Hotel Casino in Cairns, brings Reef water quality scientists from northern Australia’s research organisations together with local growers and industry representatives to debate nitrogen-focused research, with a strong emphasis on collaborative problem solving.

Several research projects under the National Environmental Science Program’s Tropical Water Quality Hub – including the flagship ‘Project 25’ real-time water quality monitoring project – will be presented and discussed at the forum, as will industry projects such as the Six Easy Steps toolbox.

The forum is being co-hosted by sugar industry peak body CANEGROWERS and the Reef and Rainforest Research Centre (RRRC) a non-profit consortium of environmental research organisations and industry representatives based in Cairns.

RRRC managing director Sheriden Morris said that reducing nitrogen runoff was of critical importance to building the resilience of the Great Barrier Reef as it faces ongoing stresses from a changing climate.

“The Great Barrier Reef is facing a wide range of challenges, particularly human-induced climate change, contributing to back-to-black bleaching events in the Reef’s northern section.

“Building resilience in the system by improving water quality and sustaining the Reef’s natural ecosystems is essential to its future.
“Cane farmers have skin in this game – nitrogen-based fertilizer is a primary operational cost for them and they have equal interest in meeting the technical challenges of growing their crops and sustaining their industry next to the Great Barrier Reef.”

CANEGROWERS Senior Manager for Membership, Engagement and Innovation said that in the last five years, the cane industry has made significant strides in the science and research underpinning practices to improve the effective use of nitrogen in farming.

“Growers and scientists have collaborated on projects, extension and government have partnered on delivery,” he said.

“We have a program to support best management practices called Smartcane BMP, a nutrition framework to collate proven results called Six Easy Steps, a behaviour change program to support change and an extension network to deliver it. All of this supports grower production and reduces impacts on the reef.”


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PNG Rangers Cairns

PNG rangers share skills at Cairns forum

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Two rangers from the Building Resilience in the Treaty Villages (BRTV) program in Papua New Guinea’s southern coastal villages have travelled to Australia to share and gain knowledge at a forum for indigenous rangers.

The Indigenous Rangers Forum, held in Burketown over 4-6 September, brought together representatives of 72 indigenous ranger groups from all over northern Australia.

The PNG Community Rangers Senia Paho, from Mabuaduan Village, and Elda David, from Kadawa Village, were selected out of the current cohort of 110 PNG Community Rangers to attend the forum, and were a standout as they were the only ranger representatives aside from the hosts to present to the entire body.

They benefited from a wide range of experience being shared at the forum, including the methodologies of Australian indigenous rangers, small business enterprise including fee-for-service models, service-to-community principles and governance structure protocols.

Dave Rutherford at INLOC, which provides training services for the BRTV program, said the event was a major success, and that PNG rangers were swamped with offers of support from their Australian counterparts.

“The forum was an excellent opportunity for the Community Rangers to both learn from Australian operational models and also showcase what they had learned and developed over in PNG,” Mr Rutherford said.

“They’ll be taking this knowledge back to the Treaty Villages and putting it to good use there.”

The Building Resilience in the Treaty Villages program is an innovative aid delivery program managed by the Reef and Rainforest Research Centre, a non-profit organisation based in Cairns.

The program operates in the Treaty Villages along the south coast of PNG’s Western Province, adjacent to the northernmost islands of the Torres Strait. Residents of these communities, which suffer extreme barriers to development – including disease, drought, lack of clean water, lack of healthcare and isolation from the rest of PNG – are permitted free travel to northern parts of the Torres Strait under the 1978 Torres Strait Treaty. The Treaty Villages are key players in the dynamics on Australia’s northern borderlands.

PNG Community Rangers are selected by elders from within their communities and trained in a wide variety of vital community-building skills including water management, first aid, construction, sanitation, leadership, agriculture and even IT.

The program is funded by the Australian Aid program in PNG and is also supported by the Papua New Guinean Government.

The Indigenous Rangers forum was hosted by the Carpentaria Land Council and sponsored by the Australian Department of Agriculture and Fisheries.


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coral bleaching gbr

Good news for coral bleaching on the GBR: Encouraging signs of recovery

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There are significant signs of recovery for corals affected by mass coral bleaching on the GBR. A milder 2017-2018 summer aided by science, industry and government is supporting the recovery of the GBR in many locations.

Reefs around the world bleached in 2016 and 2017 and whilst the northern part of the GBR experienced some severe bleaching and mortality, not all the reef bleached and there are encouraging signs of recovery at many key tourism sites.

Recent photos show healthy, colourful coral at numerous locations that suffered during the back-to- back coral bleaching events in 2016 and 2017.

Coral bleaching occurs when corals experience too much stress – eg from high water temperatures or poor water quality – and eject their symbiotic zooxanthellae, losing their distinctive colours.

If stressful conditions persist, the corals will die, but if conditions return to acceptable levels, some corals can re-absorb zooxanthellae and recover.

A relatively cooler 2017-2018 summer in the northern GBR has helped many corals affected by the mass bleaching to start the journey back to good health.

Tourism operators have reported improvements in the condition of corals at their high-profile dive sites.

Quicksilver Group Environmental Compliance Manager Doug Baird said there had been widespread recovery from the 2016 and 2017 mass bleaching events at the company’s regular sites.

“All of our sites that survived the mass bleaching events have shown strong signs of recovery, they look great now. We were fortunate that the effects of bleaching were very patchy,” Doug said.

“I was in the water a few weeks ago at our pontoon site at Agincourt Reef and it looks stunning, there’s staghorn coral that’s budding out and regrowing.

Photographs from Pablo Cogollos at the Reef Restoration Foundation taken in June and July 2018 show vibrant, heathy coral at Fitzroy Island, Moore Reef and Saxon Reef near Cairns.

The Reef and Rainforest Research Centre (RRRC) in cooperation with the Association of Marine Park Tourism Operators (AMPTO) conducted detailed surveys of bleaching levels at key dive tourism sites around Cairns in 2016. Whilst many of the primary dive sites were not affected in the 2016 bleaching, quite a few were quite strongly affected in the 2017 event. Fortunately these are the same reefs showing strong signs of recovery.

“It is important to realise that bleaching occurs in multiple stages, ranging from the equivalent of a mild sunburn to coral mortality – so when a reef is reported as ‘bleached’ in the media, that often leaves out a critical detail on how severe that bleaching is, at what depth the bleaching has occurred and if it’s going to cause permanent damage to the coral at that site,” RRRC Managing Director Sheriden Morris said.

“The Great Barrier Reef is a very large and diverse coral system with a high level of biodiversity, and has significant capacity to recover from health impacts like bleaching events. Increasing temperatures experienced around the world from climate change means that the pressure on the Great Barrier Reef is going to continue into the future. In addition to whole of government and community actions to reduce carbon emissions and improve the quality of water running into the GBR, managers and operators on the Great Barrier Reef will need to do all they can to protect and support their individual sites.”

“The impacts of the bleaching was severe in the far northern region of the GBR and there was very little coral bleaching past Townsville and Mackay and the impacts around the Cairns region were patchy,” Sheriden Morris said.

Multiple recent reports and images from marine tourism operators and from the tourists themselves show some sites are recovering quite well.

“Saxon Reef, for example, suffered some form of bleaching on 47.1 per cent of its live coral cover during the 2016 event. Fortunately much of the bleached coral recovered thanks to better conditions experienced in 2018.

“However, this recovery is always going to be contingent on environmental conditions. It is critical that all efforts are made to promote the health and resilience of the Great Barrier Reef.”

“It is clearly a misconception that the whole of the GBR suffered from severe coral bleaching and that the reef is dead. This is blatantly untrue” said Sheriden Morris.

Sheriden Morris added “We all know that the reef may suffer further bleaching events as the climate continues to warm, but we have to do everything we possibly can to help protect our Great Barrier Reef.”

The RRRC co-hosted a major Great Barrier Reef Restoration Symposium in July which was held in Cairns. Over 300 scientists, engineers and marine tourism industry representatives from 14 countries explored ways to support tropical coral reefs in the face of the world’s warming climate.

The Great Barrier Reef Restoration Symposium was a first of its kind to be held that focused on restoration and recovery of coral reef systems.

The Symposium highlighted local actions that can be implemented to recover and be more resilient from impacts such as bleaching


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Great Barrier Reef GBR

RRRC welcomes $500m funding for Great Barrier Reef

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The Reef and Rainforest Research Centre (RRRC), a Cairns-based environmental NGO, has welcomed the announcement of $500 million for Great Barrier Reef protection from the Australian Government in the 2018 Budget.

It’s now time to invest in resilience and restoration strategies for the Great Barrier Reef (GBR) as climate change and other health impacts continue to threaten its health.

Funding will be spread over a number of organisations and several important active Reef protection and restoration efforts, including controlling Crown of Thorns starfish, research into coral restoration techniques and improving the quality of water flowing out to the Great Barrier Reef lagoon.

RRRC currently manages a large number of projects in these areas, primarily through the National Environmental Science Program (NESP)’s Tropical Water Quality Hub.

RRRC managing director Sheriden Morris participated in the announcement of the funding by Environment and Energy Minister Josh Frydenberg in Cairns on April 29 and said it was ‘now or never’ when it came to actively intervening to protect and rebuild the Great Barrier Reef.

“The most important thing we can do to protect the Reef is to work globally to limit and reverse climate change, which is the source of most of these impacts on the Reef,” she said.

“However, even if we could stop emitting all sources of greenhouse gas today, we would still experience relatively rapid increases in temperature over the next few decades. That change is ‘locked-in’ to the system. Mass bleaching events have already impacted the Great Barrier Reef in 2016 and 2017. So even if we stop all emissions today, it’s very likely that multiple mass bleaching events will still occur in the near future and continue damaging the GBR, as well as other reefs around the world.

“This means that stopping climate change is not enough to protect the Great Barrier Reef. In addition, we must explore every option possible for immediate interventions for the health of the GBR, even at a local scale for individual reefs.

“This includes strategies like controlling coral-eating species like Crown of Thorns starfish. It includes: developing and up-scaling restoration techniques like coral gardening; working with farmers to reduce harmful and wasteful runoff of agricultural chemicals flowing out to the Reef; more outside-the-box strategies like restoring natural water movement and mixing at individual reef sites to reduce the stress that causes coral bleaching.

“These strategies aren’t distractions or band-aids. They are critical to making sure that when we reach a future in which the rate of global climate change has finally been brought under control, the Great Barrier Reef is still there, still the best in the world, supporting world-class biodiversity and a thriving tourism industry.”

In July, RRRC will be hosting the world’s first Great Barrier Reef Restoration Symposium in Cairns, which will bring together scientists, engineers and stakeholders from all over the world to discuss and plan the most effective techniques for active restoration of the Great Barrier Reef.

More information on Great Barrier Reef health intervention projects involving RRRC can be found below:

The Tropical Water Quality Hub is supported by the Australian Government’s National Environmental Science Program.

The Crown of Thorns Starfish Targeted Control Program is jointly run with the Association of Marine Park Tour Operators (AMPTO) and the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority.


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COTS crown of thorns starfish

Crown of Thorns Starfish control program protecting key reefs from coral-eating predator

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Crown of Thorns Starfish (Acanthaster spp) feed on coral polyps and have been occurring in outbreaks off the coast of north Queensland since the 1960s, with the species responsible for up to 25 per cent of live coral cover loss on the Great Barrier Reef up until mass bleaching events in 2012.

The Australian government’s National Environmental Science Programme (NESP) has drawn together researchers, industry and government in an innovative pest management program for a targeted effort to control outbreaks of Crown of Thorns Starfish on the northern Great Barrier Reef.

Called the Crown of Thorns Starfish Targeted Control Program, this industry-led effort has operated in northern Great Barrier Reef Marine Park since 2015 with the aim of protecting key coral sites and priority tourism reefs.

Now in a ‘mopping-up phase’, the program has been successful at protecting these key sites, along with the world-class biodiversity and over 60,000 jobs they support, from Crown of Thorns Starfish predation.

Divers in the program are trained to find and inject the starfish with a compound derived from ovine and bovine stomach bile, which causes a fatal allergic reaction within 24 hours without the risk of harming any other marine organisms. As soon as the starfish’s poisonous spines slough off, it is usually quickly consumed by nearby fish.

Currently, the program operates two control vessels, MV Venus II and MV Hero, each with a complement of divers that can remove approximately 3000 Crown of Thorns Starfish per 12-day voyage.

To date, the program has removed over 620,000 Crown of Thorns Starfish from the Great Barrier Reef.

With each starfish consuming an average 20 square metres of coral over its lifetime, this equates to the protection of over 12,640,000 square metres of coral.

This innovative and productive partnership between pest control researchers, managers and the GBR tourism industry – applying best-practice integrated pest management principles to the marine realm in what is believed to be a world-first – has already delivered improvements in the effectiveness and efficiency with which starfish can be controlled on the Great Barrier Reef.

The Reef and Rainforest Research Centre (RRRC) provides the crucial two-way knowledge exchange link between NESP Tropical Water Quality Hub researchers from CSIRO, managers at the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA) and the Association of Marine Park Tourism Operators (AMPTO)’s starfish control teams in the water.

Data from CSIRO indicates that the integrated approach, combined with other discoveries and an extra vessel thanks to new funding from the Australian Department of Environment and Energy, should enable divers to remove over 320,000 starfish per year by 2020, equal to saving 6.4 million square metres of coral a year.

This represents an increase in effectiveness of 155 per cent – and CSIRO considers that estimate conservative.

RRRC managing director Sheriden Morris said that the program demonstrated the beneficial outcomes of a well-managed and supported direct intervention for the health of the Great Barrier Reef.

“Where you have an effective, well-supported program like this, it works,” she said.

“Crown of Thorns Starfish outbreaks represent a factor that we can take direct action against at a local level, which is especially important considering they prey on healthy coral that has survived other impact events like bleaching and storms.

“So it’s not all bad news for the Great Barrier Reef.”

“The strong cooperative relationship that we have built with AMPTO, GBRMPA and the Queensland and Australian governments has enabled the protection of a lot of coral that would otherwise be lost and we’re looking forward to continue building that relationship into the future.”

AMPTO Project Manager Steve Moon OAM said the use of advanced science from TWQ Hub meant dive teams could save time spent searching for the starfish and allow them to focus on control efforts.

“Each adult female Crown of Thorns can release millions of eggs and if even a tiny percentage of that number survives, it can translate into huge outbreaks down the line,” he said.

“Among other things what the Integrated Pest Management approach enables us to do is to is have a much better idea of where the large aggregations of Crown of Thorns are going to be ahead of time, so we can go straight to that location and get to work instead of spending time on those voyages trying to find that aggregation.

“The research has been an extremely valuable addition to the program.”

The Control Program will also be sending trained divers to the southern end of the Great Barrier Reef where a large outbreak of Crown of Thorns Starfish has been discovered on the Swain Reefs group off the coast of Gladstone.

AMPTO member Bruce Stobo and his vessel Kanimbla will carry Control Program divers to the Swain Reefs on January 16th, where they will assist and share their expertise with personnel from the Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service (QPWS) in assessing the outbreak.

The Crown of Thorns Starfish Targeted Control Program is a cooperative effort between the

Australian government’s National Environmental Science Programme (NESP) Reef and Rainforest Research Centre (RRRC), the Association of Marine Park Tourism Operators (AMPTO) and the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA). It is supported by funding from the Australian government and training support from the Queensland government.


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RRRC welcomes funding for Reef water-mixing technology as bleaching season approaches

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Preparations for a world-first combination of Queensland’s best science and engineering expertise to defend parts of the Great Barrier Reef from climate change will begin this summer, thanks to $2.2 million in funding from the Australian Department of the Environment and Energy. Read more

‘Hero’ rejoins fight against Reef-eating predator

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A ship dedicated to countering a serious threat to the health of the Great Barrier Reef and the tourism economy it supports will be heading back out to sea after a two-week refit. Read more

Divers graduate after joining the fight against Crown of Thorns Starfish

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The latest class of divers trained to control outbreaks of the coral-eating Crown of Thorns  Starfish will be entering the workforce with an arsenal of specialized skills after graduating at a ceremony in Cairns today. Read more

Sea Swift helps out in PNG humanitarian effort

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Northern Australia shipping company Sea Swift has teamed up with local organisation RRRC Connect to help donate 52 Rescue Swags to help a poverty-stricken region in Papua New Guinea (PNG). Read more

Big boost for Cairns Aquarium with major funding announcement

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The Cairns Aquarium has received a long-awaited funding boost with the announcement of a combined $2 million grant from the Federal Government and the Reef and Rainforest Research Centre. Read more

Cairns Aquarium

Cairns Aquarium poised for $2m funding for research centre from Federal Government

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Cairns Aquarium is in line for about $2 million funding for a research centre. The centre could evolve into a new outpost of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority. Read more

Campaign to save mothers and babies on Australia’s borderlands

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A Cairns non-government humanitarian organisation is reaching out to the Queensland community to help supply a locally-designed ‘smart first aid kit’ to impoverished communities on Papua New Guinea’s borderlands with Australia. Read more

Crown of Thorns control vessel helps repair Whitsunday reefs after Cyclone Debbie

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A crack team of Cairns tourism-industry divers will be helping put the Whitsunday Islands’ coral reefs back together again in the wake of Tropical Cyclone Debbie. Read more

RRRC gets major boost as managing director Sheriden Morris appointed chair of CRC For Developing Northern Australia

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RRRC’s managing director Sheriden Morris has been appointed the chairperson of the board of directors for the Cooperative Research Centre for Developing Northern Australia, a $75 million body that will assist businesses, governments and researchers to work together to identify opportunities for business and growth in northern Australia.

See the media release below for details:

Joint Media Release – CRC for Northern Australia open for business – 20 Feb 2017

Keeping an eye on Big Wet runoff

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Every year, major rainfalls in FNQ turn the Barron River and other major watercourses a bright shade of ochre. They pick up mud and silt on their way to the ocean. This year, scientists and farmers are keeping a closer eye on the sediment-filled waters and their effects on the Great Barrier Reef. Read more

crown-of-thorns starfish

Efforts doubled in fight against crown-of-thorns starfish

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Marine managers, scientists and the tourism industry will boost efforts to protect the health of the Great Barrier Reef. They will look to cull coral eating COTS over the next three years. Read more

Tour Industry’s “Sigh of Relief” at Latest Coral Recovery Findings

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Queensland’s marine tourism industry is breathing a sigh of relief. The latest scientific assessment of coral recovery from the Great Barrier Reef’s worst ever bleaching event is positive. Read more

Community Rangers Mabuadan Hospital

Community Rangers rebuild Mabuadan Hospital

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Rangers trained under RRRC’s Treaty Village Resilience Program have rebuilt the derelict hospital in Mabuadan Village, PNG. This will give  new access to healthcare for the community, particularly women.

Read more…

Coral Bleaching

Key tourism reefs escape worst of coral bleaching

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Another survey dive mission on key tourism reefs in the Cairns area have revealed that these reefs have avoided the worst of the damage in the recent mass coral bleaching event.

Read more…

Harnessing the market to reduce coastal run-off

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An experiment under the NESP Tropical Water Quality Hub has indicated that a nitrogen trading scheme could be effective in reducing agricultural runoff impacts on the Great Barrier Reef.

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Another honour for the far north

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As the first of David Attenborough’s TV program on the Great Barrier Reef aired last night, an Aboriginal art book by a Cairns artist and author, Munganbana Norman Miller, and Adelaide based RenBro Publishing, is the proud recipient of a Bronze Medal from the internationally prestigious and globally recognized Independent Publisher Book Awards – IPPY Awards 2016. The book’s Bronze Medal has been awarded under the IPPY’s National Category of Multicultural Non-fiction Adult which is for the overall medalists and includes entrants from UK, US, Aus/NZ, and Europe. This is an outstanding achievement for Munganbana as a longstanding artist of note. Read more

Bleaching survey results in for Cairns dive tourism sites

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The first detailed up-close bleaching surveys of reefs in the Cairns-Lizard Island area have been completed, and results show that the key tourism sites off Cairns have escaped the worst of the severe bleaching.

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What do we do about coral bleaching?

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The northern Great Barrier Reef is experiencing one of the worst mass bleaching events on record. Here’s how researchers and managers are working to help the Reef endure and recover from bleaching and other threats.

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Long-lasting changes in water clarity in the whole-GBR in response to rivers

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NERP TE Hub Project 4.1

Katharina Fabricius’s paper “Changes in water clarity in response to river discharges on the Great Barrier Reef continental shelf: 2002–2013” is now available online here as open access.


  • The 344,000 km2 Great Barrier Reef (GBR) is located on a shallow continental shelf.
  • We show wide-spread, long-lasting losses in GBR water clarity after river floods.
  • Across the GBR, rivers reduce water clarity by 50%, recovery takes ∼6 months.
  • In some regions, rivers affect water clarity even on the outer shelf.
  • Destructive starfish outbreaks originate in regions with greatest river effects.


Water clarity is a key factor for the health of marine ecosystems. The Australian Great Barrier Reef (GBR) is located on a continental shelf, with >35 major seasonal rivers discharging into this 344,000 km2, tropical to subtropical ecosystem. This work investigates how river discharges affect water clarity in different zones along and across the GBR. For each day over 11 years (2002–2013) we calculated ‘photic depth’ as a proxy measure of water clarity (calibrated to be equivalent to Secchi depth), for each 1 km2 pixel from MODIS-Aqua remote sensing data. Long-term and seasonal changes in photic depth  were related to the daily discharge volumes of the nearest rivers, after statistically removing the effects of waves and tides on photic depth. The relationships between photic depths and rivers differed across and along the GBR. They typically declined from the coastal to offshore zones, and were strongest in proximity to rivers in agriculturally modified catchments. In most southern inner zones, photic depth declined consistently throughout the 11-year observation period; such long-term trend was not observed offshore nor in the northern regions. Averaged across the GBR, photic depths declined to 47% of local maximum values soon after the onset of river floods, and recovery to 95% of maximum values took on average 6 months (range: 150–260 days). The river effects were strongest at latitude 14.5°–19.0°S, where river loads are high and the continental shelf is narrow. Here, even offshore zones showed a >40% seasonal decline in photic depth, and 17–24% reductions in annual mean photic depth in years with large river nutrients and sediment loads. Our methodology is based on freely available data and tools and may be applied to other shelf systems, providing valuable insights in support of ecosystem management.

Crown of Thorns cull passes 400,000

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New technologies and techniques have allowed control divers to remove 400,000 Crown of Thorns Starfish from the Great Barrier Reef and protect the $7 billion tourism industry dependent on it. Read more

Funny side of tourism focus for FNQ researchers

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THE funny side of tourism will be within the scope of a new research centre dedicated to improving the industry.

CQUniversity officially opened its new Centre for Tourism and Regional Opportunities at its Cairns campus. Read more

Tropical expertise developing communities on Australia’s borderlands

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Severe drought is pushing communities to breaking point on Australi…….a’s borderlands however the tropical expertise of organisations based in Cairns are helping communities in this region develop. Read more

Treaty Village aid program improving lives on Australian-PNG border

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As the 30th Anniversary of the Australian and PNG Torres Strait Treaty is celebrated, an Australian-funded development aid program in Papua New Guinea’s south is producing real results, with compelling human stories emerging from the program. Read more

Workshop helps set guide research on Crown Of Thorns Starfish

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Outbreaks of Crown Of Thorns Starfish (COTS) have been identified as one of top three threats to the health of the Great Barrier Reef and the $5 billion tourism industry it supports. Read more

Rivers of red threaten the future of the reef

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It’s going to take the reinvention of 10,000 farms to improve water quality and repair the Great Barrier Reef, and there’s new evidence that sediment from farms producing Australia’s favourite fruit—bananas—is a growing part of the problem. The bold plan to fix the reef will cost billions but is already facing funding cuts. Gregg Borschmann investigates. Read more

Jellyfish workshop brings together scientists, stakeholders

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The excruciating pain inflicted by a box jellyfish sting can really ruin a swim in the warm waters of tropical far north Queensland and it’s notoriously difficult to predict where swarms of the venomous marine organisms might suddenly appear. Read more

Community Rangers ready to help develop PNG Villages with Australian-funded training

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The original drafting of the Great Barrier Reef Aquaculture Regulations, did what they were meant to do protect the Great Barrier Reef and the biosecurity for the aquaculture industry. As the then-Director for Water Quality at the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, it was my job to draft these Regulations. Read more

Give aquaculture a fair go

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The original drafting of the Great Barrier Reef Aquaculture Regulations, did what they were meant to do protect the Great Barrier Reef and the biosecurity for the aquaculture industry. As the then-Director for Water Quality at the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, it was my job to draft these Regulations. Read more

Training program boosts employment and protects Reef at the same time

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A federally-funded training program has helped boost youth employment in Cairns and protect the Great Barrier Reef (GBR) simultaneously, with a group of young locals receiving Certificate III’s in Tourism and Occupational Diving and also culling the coral eating Crown of Thorns Starfish (COTS) at the same time. Read more

Healthy reef more important than fishing or shipping: residents and visitors

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The health of the Great Barrier Reef is more important to residents and tourists than its recreational or commercial uses, according to new research. Read more

RRRC welcomes funding to fight coral-eating monster starfish

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The Reef and Rainforest Research Centre (RRRC) is welcoming the announcement of $7 million to control populations of the coraleating Crown of Thorns Starfish (COTS) on the Great Barrier Reef. Read more

Great Barrier Reef showing signs of regrowth and new coral colonies

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QUEENSLAND’S cyclone-battered Great Barrier Reef is showing good signs of regrowth and new coral colonies as the Environment Minister urged tourists to put a visit to the natural wonder on a “bucket list’’.

The largest post-cyclone assessment of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park — a 600km-long stretch of reef — found up to a 9 per cent increase in coral cover in parts. Read more

Crown of thorns starfish appears in pristine parts of Western Australia

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The crown of thorns starfish which has devastated large areas of the Great Barrier Reef has infested areas around the Montebello Islands off the Pilbara coast.

Surveys going back to the mid-1970s have shown the existence of the marine invertebrates in the reefs off the Pilbara coastline. However, the numbers being currently observed are much higher than seen in previous years. Read more

Rainforest search begins near Cairns for yellow crazy ants pest

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A large-scale search for an invasive pest species of ant is underway in dense rainforest in far north Queensland. Read more

Penalties for hunting threatened species tripled

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Illegal poachers of dugongs and turtles in far north Queensland are about to face tougher penalties, as the Federal Government announces new measures to protect threatened species. Read more

Reef-eating crown-of-thorns starfish spurred on by rising sea temperatures

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Rising sea temperatures have been found by scientists to improve the survival rate of the coral-eating crown-of-thorn starfish in findings that are likely to stoke fears about the future of the Great Barrier Reef. Read more

Australian boats help stop the spread of tuberculosis in Papua New Guinea

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Four specially crafted boats are heading from Australia’s north-east coast to Papua New Guinea as part of a program to help stop the spread of tuberculosis in the country. Read more

New weapon headed to PNG in the war against Tuberculosis

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FOUR specially crafted boats are Papua New Guinea-bound to bolster a Federal Government bid to tackle a tuberculosis epidemic before it crosses borders and wreaks havoc on the Far North. Read more

Millions to be invested into tropical water quality research

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THE Australian Government is investing more than $31 million over six years for research into tropical water quality through the National Environmental Science Programme. Read more

Water quality research welcomed

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WHITSUNDAY tourism operators have welcomed the Federal Government’s announcement of more than $31 million over six years for research into tropical water quality through the National Environmental Science Program. Read more

New National Environmental Research Program to be based in Cairns

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THE Australian Government is investing more than $31 million over six years for research into tropical water quality through the National Environmental Science Programme. Read more

Government invests $31 million in Reef research

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THE Australian Government is investing more than $31 million over six years for research into tropical water quality through the National Environmental Science Programme. Read more

Seychelles Must Control Crown-of-Thorns Starfish Outbreak Before Coral Reefs Are Decimated, Says Expert

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Beau-Vallon — Increasing levels of human development in Seychelles coupled with rising sea temperatures have caused an outbreak of venomous starfish that feed on delicate coral reefs, and unless concerted action is taken soon, a large number of reefs within the inner granitic islands of the archipelago could be entirely lost. Read more

Daintree Rainforest Observatory opens

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A new world-class research centre and observatory focusing on the Daintree Rainforest has been opened today.

The Member for Leichhardt Warren Entsch said the Daintree Rainforest Observatory was built with $9.7 million from the Australian Government and that it will build on the work already done by James Cook University’s (JCU) Australian Canopy Crane Research Station. Read more

Amazing photos of Australia’s epic Great Barrier Reef

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More than 100,000 beautiful images of Australia’s Great Barrier Reef have been released to the public.

The photos include species living on the reef, 360 degree panoramas and map the reef from 32 different locations. Read more

Climate change leadership needed to preserve Great Barrier Reef

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A decision by G20 leaders to discuss climate change at their meeting in Brisbane this week is good news for the Great Barrier Reef, researchers say.

The University of Queensland’s Dr Juan Ortiz, lead author on a study of the reef released today, said the research was the most detailed to date and the first to show definitively that the reef could be preserved if emissions were reduced, with visible benefits within 20 years. Read more

Better safe than sorry: Scientist backs divers’ two-spikes rule

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A LEADING scientist has backed dive operators’ tough “two spikes and you’re out” rule when dealing with crown of thorns starfish, saying it is better to be safe than sorry.

The Association of Marine Park Tourism Operators has introduced a new policy for its divers trying to eliminate the coral-devouring creatures from the Great Barrier Reef. Read more

NERP TE Hub Conference 2014

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Don’t forget that the NERP TE Hub Conference is to be held on the 5th-7th November 2014 at the Pullman Reef Hotel Casino, Cairns. Click here for more details.

Cairns divers told two spikes and you’re out in quest to stop crown-of-thorns starfish

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DIVERS trying to eliminate crown-of-thorns starfish from the Great Barrier Reef will be sacked if they get twice stung by the animals’ venomous spines.

The Association of Marine Park Tourism Operators has implemented the tough new “two spikes and you’re out” policy after workplace, health and safety concerns about the venomous creatures. Read more

James Cook University scientists find small reef shark may cope with effects of climate change

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REEF fish stocks may face less predatory pressure after scientists found a small species of shark doesn’t have to eat more to cope with the carbon dioxide levels predicted for the end of the century. Read more

Study aims to solve Queensland turtle deaths mystery

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Researchers are trying to solve the mystery of what caused the mass strandings and deaths of green turtles in Queensland’s far north two years ago

They are tagging hundreds of turtles along the Great Barrier Reef as part of a project to try and prevent more deaths. Read more

Biosecurity officer on Boigu Island, Torres Strait protects Australia’s agriculture

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Checking insect traps, collecting scientific data and processing international arrivals to ensure they’re not carrying pests or disease that would threaten Australia’s agricultural, is all in a day’s work for Gadu Banu. Read more

Doctor confirms first fatal drug resistant TB infection

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Tests have confirmed the first Australian transmission of a virulent form of multi-drug resistant tuberculosis.

Two weeks ago a Torres Strait islander woman died in Cairns from a mutant strain that originates across the border from Papua New Guinea. Read more

Sheriden Morris at the forefront of efforts to manage human impacts on the Great Barrier Reef

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SHERIDEN Morris has been at the forefront of efforts to manage human impacts on the Great Barrier Reef for nearly 30 years.

When a Far Northern ­inshore reef system began to collapse, she worked with farmers on improving their practices and reducing run-off into reef catchments. Read more

Illegal traders of dugong, turtle meat targeted with $5m poaching crackdown

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The Federal Government is warning anyone involved in the illegal trade of dugong and turtle meat that they will be caught.

The Government has allocated $5 million to a dugong and turtle protection plan that involves the Australian Federal Police (AFP), Customs and Border Protection, and the Australian Crime Commission. Read more

Fresh wave of coral killing starfish found in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park

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THE body heading the fight against the coral-devouring crown of thorns starfish has warned funding for the control program must continue if the battle is to be won.

Divers have found starfish smaller than a 5¢ coin in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, which indicates another wave of COTS is ready to invade. Read more

10-year study shows Great Barrier Reef no-fishing zones boost shark numbers

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A 10-YEAR study that involved thousands of underwater camera drops has found no-fishing zones are boosting shark numbers on the Great Barrier Reef. Read more

New pilot program to address development issues in PNG’s Western Province

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ABC Radio Australia’s Catherine Graue interviews Sheriden Morris to talk about the new pilot program in PNG’s Western Province.

Click here to listen to the interview.

New partnership to support communities in PNG

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The Australian Government will provide $1.85 million to a two-year pilot program promoting economic and community development and disease prevention in Papua New Guinea’s Western Province.

The program is the product of a new partnership between the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and the Cairns-based Reef and Rainforest Research Centre (RRRC).

Read the full media release here.

National Threatened Species Day

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Sunday the 7th of September is National Threatened Species Day. Events are been held all over Australia, click here to have a look what’s going on in Queensland.

Prickly prediction issue plagues Great Barrier Reef

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Predicting the patterns of crown-of-thorns starfish outbreaks is the focus of a University of Queensland study that could be vital to protecting the Great Barrier Reef. Read more

Senate report says Gladstone Harbour an ‘environmental disaster’

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DREDGING and dumping of spoil on the Great Barrier Reef faces a cap or ban after a decision hailed as a victory in the fight to protect our iconic underwater jewel.

The long-awaited Senate Reef report tabled last night recommended a halt to dumping amid deep concerns about the rapidly declining health of the 2300km-long reef off Queensland’s coast. Read more

Urbanisation joins mining and farming as threat to Great Barrier Reef

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THE battered Great Barrier Reef may yet face its most damaging issue — urban pollution from millions of people.

It is forecast that urban pollution from runaway coastal population growth will explode as people move into the area, potentially doing more damage than much-maligned farming. Read more

Two-way Route in the Great Barrier Reef and Torres Strait

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The IMO-adopted ship routeing measure to enhance the safety and efficiency of navigation and protect the region’s sensitive marine environment will come into effect at 0000 UTC on 1st December 2014. Read more

New weapons, strategies in war against Crown of Thorns

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New efforts are underway to combat infestations of Crown of Thorns starfish on the Great Barrier Reef with the development of lethal bile injectors and integrated pest management plans. Read more