A new warrior joins the battle - enter the COTSbot.
Developed by roboticists from Queensland University of Technology, this is the world's first robot designed to search and destroy (so to speak) the dreaded crown-of-thorns starfish (COTS). It does this by seeking them out, identifying them and then administering a lethal injection of bile salts.
Its creators, Dr Matthew Dunbabin and Dr Feras Dayoub, equipped the robot with GPS, stereoscopic cameras for depth perception, thrusters to improve stability, pitch-and-roll sensors as well as the pneumatic injection arm.
"We see the COTSbot as a first responder for ongoing eradication programmes - deployed to eliminate the bulk of COTS in any area, with divers following a few days later to hit the remaining COTS."
As an AUV (autonomous underwater vehicle), it can operate with minimal human interaction. It is designed to work underwater for up to eight hours at a time, administering more than 200 shots.
If it comes across a coral that cannot be conclusively identified as a COTS, it transmits a photo of it back to the system. Someone would then confirm (or deny) the identification, and the COTSbot files the information for future reference.
Sea trials have just been completed at Moreton Bay in Queensland. It will be deployed for a trial run later this month at the Great Barrier Reef, where COTS have decreased the coral cover by an estimated 40 percent.
For this upcoming trial, as a precaution, every COTS identified will be verified by a human before the COTSbot is allowed to administer the lethal shot.