Written by Staff Writer at CNN
A pod of dolphins and turtles have caught on to the incredible rainbow ecosystem surrounding the Great Barrier Reef.
It’s the same ecosystem scientists are trying to protect — and it’s been transformed for the past 48 hours thanks to a brilliant pink purple starfish.
Purple starfish are one of the most destructive species of starfish on the Great Barrier Reef, unless there’s something else growing there.
As sea surface temperatures warm across the Great Barrier Reef, a special kind of starfish has emerged as an invasive species. The red one seen here is nicknamed “tout le poudre” — or “yellow bus,” because the caterpillar-like creatures resemble a yellow bus on the reef.
Credit: Chris Erskine
“Usually they don’t have purple or purple legs, so [we thought they were] just plants, but this time they have got purple legs. This is why I think the coral is getting stressed,” Chris Erskine from the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, told reporters.
Around 700,000 purple starfish were seen at the beginning of the week, but since then numbers have dropped to fewer than 10,000.
It’s a “magical” spawning event for the purple starfish.
Pink, purple and pink-red variations are also taking over the reef. Colors of the light spectrum allowed the new starfish to shed its black shells and grow hair and scales.
Although purple starfish have been seen on the Great Barrier Reef for decades, this is the first time it’s spread through the marine park area to the limits of the reef, said Erskine.
“The starfish are part of the Australian Coral Reef System but have always been within the Marine Park,” he told CNN in a later interview. “So, in the past they were in pristine environments and were able to survive and be one of the best coral species. But now they’re not as well equipped as they were before, so [there is] increasing stress for the coral. That’s why we’ve had this purple starfish outbreak.”
Scientists are now trying to understand if the spreading of the purple starfish has affected the reef’s coral, explained Erskine. The largest coral diversity in the world resides at the reef, and protecting it from diseases is one of their biggest challenges.