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Transcript 2395

SPEECH BY THE RT HON W MCMAHON MP ON CROWN OF THORNS STARFISH MINISTERIAL STATEMENT

Photo of McMahon, William

McMahon, William

Period of Service: 10/03/1971 to 05/12/1972

More information about McMahon, William on The National Archive website.

Release Date: 30/03/1971

Release Type: Statement in Parliament

Transcript ID: 2395

COMMONWEALTH OF AUSTRALIA
SPEECH BY
The Rt Hon. W. McMAHON, M. P.
ON
CROWN OF THORNS STARFISH
MiniM* sterial Statement
[ From the ' Parliamentary Debates', 30 March 1971]
Mr McMAHON ( Lowe-Prime Minister)
-by leave-On 7th April 1970 the Government
announced to the House the membership
of a joint committee established
by the Commonwealth and Queensland to
investigate the problem of the Crown of
Thorns Starfish on the Great Barrier Reef.
The committee comprised:
Commonwealth Nominees
Professor R. J. Walsh, Professor
of Human Genetics at the University of
New South Wales ( Chairman).
Professor W. G. Maxwell, Associate
Professor of Geology at the University of
Sydney. Mr D. J. Tranter, Senior Research
Scientist, Division of Fisheries and
Oceanography, Commonwealth Scientific
and Industrial Research Organisation.
Queensland Nominees
Dr J. M. Harvey, Director-General of
Primary Industries.
Professor J. M. Thomson, Professor of
Zoology at the Queensland University.
Mr C. L. Harris, of the Department of
Primary Industries.
The announcement of the committee's
membership followed agreement reached
on 29th January 1970 by both Governments
that such a committee be established
and that it should be financed on a dollar
for dollar basis by each Government.
11942/ 71 I am pleased to be able to tell the House
that on last Thursday, 25th March, the
Chairman of the Committee, Professor
Walsh, reported to me on the results of
the committee's work. In view of the
importance of the report and of the widespread
interest which has been taken in its
progress I arranged for Cabinet to consider
the report today and for the report to be
tabled so that honourable members will be
able to inform themselves fully of its conclusions,
and of the reasons underlying
these conclusions. Honourable members will
be aware of the very deep concern which is
felt by many about the possibility of
destruction to the Great Barrier Reef by
the crown of thorns starfish. This concern
has been deepened for many by the belief
that perhaps complete destruction of the
Reef was inevitable unless early Government
action was taken. Some have suggested
that it may now be too late to save the
Reef. It is therefore pertinent to draw to
honourable members' attention a reference
in the Committee's report to articles in the
Press and in semi-technical journals on the
starfish as being either repetitive presentations
of eye-catching speculations or
exaggerations of the limited facts available.
Some of the confusion appears to have
occurred because the available methods of
estimating population densities of the starfish
are rather crude. Extrapolations from
these results are not reliable and are of
doubtful value. Also overlooked has been

the fact that the published figures of the
proportion of dead coral on reefs attacked
by the starfish have included an estimated
to 50 per cent of corals kiled by other
means-such deaths being a normal state
of affairs. Analogies have been drawn
between the action which had been taken
on Guam and the situation in the Great
Barrier Reef. On Guam, teams of divers
were used to combat the starfish. Some felt
that a similar operation should be mounted
on the Great Barrier Reef. Such suggestions
overlooked the fact that Guam has a
comparatively simple reef surrounding it,
around which the starfish were said to
move, limited on one side by the island
beach and on the other by the sea proper,
whereas the Great Barrier Reef is of a
size and a complexity which makes similar
generalised action to that taken on Guam
ineffective. In the light of the wide differences of
authoritative opinion as to the threat, if
any, which the starfish posed to the Great
Barrier Reef the Commonwealth considered
it necessary to obtain more facts before any
further action was taken to deal with the
starfish beyond that already set in train by
the Queensland Government and to which
reference is made in the Committee's
report. The Great Barrier Reef is perhaps
the most complex eco-system known to
man and many experts considered that it
would have been irresponsible for
generalised action to be taken before knowing
the likely consequences of such action
upon the chain of life which comprises the
Reef as we know it. As to the results of
the Committee's investigations the Committee
has found that:
the crown of thorns starfish does not
constitute a threat to the Great Barrier
Reef as a whole;
there is no danger of substantial erosion
of the physical structure of the reef; and
there is no threat to the Queensland
coastline or ports.
The entire living cover, or even a large
proportion of the coral cover, of the Reef
will not disappear as a result of the crown
of thorns starfish. Whilst there has been
extensive damage to coral because of the
starfish, serious damage is limited. Recolonisation
and regeneration of coral have
occurred on all reefs examined by the
Committee. The Committee has not been able to determine whether the high density
of starfish in some areas is a unique or a
cyclical phenomenon but it appears more
likely to be an episodic event which may
have occurred previously.
The Committee refers to the fact that the
feeding by the crown of thorns on living
coral constitutes, in the long term, part of
the reef building process, whereby dead
material is consolidated in order to provide
the platforrm necessary for the Reef's continued
growth. Tourist activity has not
declined as a result of the starfish damage.
The Committee cannot give the reason for
the population increase of crown of thorns
starfish in some areas. It reports that the
hypothesis that local collection of triton
shells has reduced predator pressure on the
starfish has not been substantiated nor has
the hypothesis that pesticides and other
organic chemicals may have -been causal.
The Committee believes that there is no need
to attempt to reduce the population of the
crown of thorns starfish throughout the
whole of the Great Barrier Reef at the
present time. It does not dispute that certain
reefs or portions of reefs having social or
commercial importance may be protected
by manual destruction of accessible starfish.
The Committee finds that present knowledge
of reef ecology is inadequate to assess
fully present and future problems concerning
the crown of thorns starfish and related
matters. It therefore suggests a programme
of research involving continued monitoring 7
of starfish population; research into reef
ecology, with particular attention to the
biology of the starfish and corals; and experiments
in local control of the starfish. To
achieve this program-me it recommends that
a sum of money of the order of $ 90,000 to
$ 120,000 be provided in the first year to
allow such research and that the sum provided
be increased progressively in each of
the second and third years at which time
there would be a review in the light of the
operation of the Australian Institute of
Marine Science. As I have already mentioned,
Cabinet has considered the recommendations
of the Committee. I am pleased
to be able to say that -the Government agrees
with the recommendations of the Committee.
I have been in touch with the
Queensland Premier and we have agreed
that $ 45,000 be allocated on a matching
basis by each Government for research

projects recommended in its first year by
an advisory committee. The advisory committee
would report to the Minister for
Education and Science, who will act on
behalf of both Governments. This amount
will be increased by $ 10,000 by each
Government in each of the second and
third years. Each Government is prepared
to increase its grant on a matching basis to the upper limits recommended by the report
if the advisory committee finds in practice
that it has sufficiently good research projects
to warrant this. I shall announce the membership
of the advisory committee as soon
as possible.
I present the following paper:
Crown of Thorns Starfish-ministerial statement,
30th March 1971.
Printed by Authority by the Government Printer of the Commonwealth of Australia

Transcript 2395