National Geographic : 1986 Jan
boggle-eyed, and the triggerfish, splashed with such colors as to be a cutout from an artist's palette. And there are tentacles in languid sway, ready to deal in death by pa ralysis. A clam that looks as large as a moose brings to mind a question that has endured in memories since the movies of one's youth: Will the creature really clamp its massive jaws over the leg of a diver? It will. Above all, there is the coral itself, the liv ing landscapes in the sea created by polyps by the billions, whose skeletons form the massive reefs. Some of the coral is soft, some hard, some sharp as a needle, some blunt and knobby. There are castles of coral and flowers of coral, lacy fans of coral and mush rooms of coral-a gallery down there, in 20 feet of water, of form and color. Some of the coral is white, a sign of death on the reef. The killer is the crown-of-thorns starfish (Acanthaster planci). As large as two feet across, the starfish feed on the living tissues of coral, leaving the skeleton. They go through a reef like a brushfire, erasing the colors and halting the rapid march of life. There are sharply opposing opinions in Queensland concerning the starfish threat to the Great Barrier Reef. One expert, Dr. Robert Endean of the University of Queens land, terms it "a major problem." As much as half of the entire reef chain, he claims, may now be under attack by the crown-of thorns. He puts much of the blame on shell collectors who have taken most of the giant triton mollusks from the waters. The triton is a natural predator of the adult starfish. Other scientists insist that the current starfish infestation, which began in 1979, is part of a natural cycle. The coral needs thin ning anyway, they maintain, and since it eventually regenerates itself after dying, no lasting harm is done. Either way, bleached coral is not good for tourism on the Great Barrier Reef. Some tour operators attack the starfish with injec tions of copper sulfate. It is lethal, but it has been estimated that it would take a diver 15 years to clear one heavily infested reef. So the reef often can be sinister. Some thing beautiful acts the siren, and something equally beautiful is lured to its death. "It's gorgeous down there, but eerie," a tour ist told me. "You can almost hear things breathing, sucking in and out like an iron Queensland,BroadShoulder of Australia lung. I mean everything there is eating everything else, and when you watch that for so long, the beauty turns into ugliness." r ITH THE DESIGNATION of the Great Barrier Reef as a marine park, no longer will oil drilling and other commercial activities stand as a threat to the unique underwater environment. Controlled fishing will be permitted, along Gentle as a lamb when spinningstories for granddaughterAnna, state premier SirJohannes Bjelke-Petersen is a lion againstopponents. In office since 1968, Premier"Joh," a fundamentalist, preaches againsttaxes, unions, pornography,Aboriginalland rights, and the nationalLaborgovernment.