Researchers at the Queensland University of Technology are closing in on trialing a new starfish-killing robot, the COTSbot. Crown-of-thorns starfish (COTS) have contributed to nearly half of the coral lost over the past 30 years on the Great Barrier Reef.
The COTSbot has been programmed to identify these harmful starfish from a wealth of other reef life, and deliver a deadly injection. Follow-up work will be done by teams of divers.
Outbreaks of this specialist corallivore have been blamed on changing land use on areas near the reef. Increased use of fertiliser washed into the sea has increased the amount of algae, the food source for crown-of-thorns larvae.
This great innovation will be a useful tool in taming crown-of-thorns outbreaks and ensuring that less coral coverage is lost. However, it is a technological solution to a systemic problem. The COTSbot only addresses the symptom of a lack of proper management of coastal areas near the reef.
This example could be used for a classroom debate looking at whether society is more keen on technological innovations to deal with environmental issues rather than looking at behavioural change that would address the problem at source.