Australia orders removal of destructive starfish from Great Barrier Reef tourist sites

Tourism operators will be paid to kill giant coral-chomping starfish on the Great Barrier Reef in a move to protect its fragile ecosystem, the Australian government announced Monday.

Federal Environment Minister Ian Campbell said a 600,000 Australian dollar (US$440,000; Ђ374,000) grant would fund a two-year program to eradicate crown-of-thorns starfish from some of the reef's most popular patches of coral.

The Association of Marine Park Tourism Operators will be in charge of the program to remove the spiny starfish _ which can measure up to 80 centimeters (31 inches) in diameter _ from the reef.

"The program focuses on protecting tourism sites and will operate at locations where the tourism operators have active measures to control crown-of-thorns starfish in place themselves," Campbell said.

"Tourism is one of our most valuable industries and, on the Great Barrier Reef, it contributes A$5.1 billion (US$3.8 billion; Ђ3.2 billion) to the Australian economy," he added.

Crown-of-thorns starfish are common in Australian and Southeast Asian waters, and can be found as far afield as the shores of East Africa and the west coast of the United States, AP reported. V.A.

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