Furry crabs once thought to be damaging the Great Barrier Reef may in fact be helping save the coral by stopping the spread of disease, a researcher said Tuesday.
Scientists studied the impact of furry coral crabs on fragments suffering from white syndrome, a deadly disease that appears throughout the Indo-Pacific and causes coral tissue to slough off.
“I think the crabs are helping by consuming that tissue as it falls off and also by eating any of the other associated microorganisms that could thrive on that dead and dying tissue,” researcher Joseph Pollock.
Pollock said the crabs did not kill the disease, the cause of which is still unknown, but his study showed they significantly slowed its progress.
“It could be that these crabs are giving it (the coral) a bit of a chance to stay alive until potentially those water temperatures could come down or the coral could put up a defence to stop the disease progression itself.”
The destructive disease “can kill two-metre, three-metre coral colonies that are decades old in a matter of just months,” he said, adding that it was a major threat and sometimes overlooked.
He said the researchers found the crabs were strongly attracted to colonies hit by white syndrome.
“This could be a very interesting feedback mechanism whereby these crabs help to slow coral disease on reefs.” Australia is under growing pressure to step up protection of the Great Barrier Reef, a world heritage site, which has been damaged by the predatory crown-of-thorns starfish.AFP