Article Source: NineMSN 
The curse of the Great Barrier Reef, the crown of thorns starfish, could be eradicated in Queensland's key tourism areas by early next year, an expert says.
A team of nine divers has removed around 70,000 of the destructive creatures over the past five years amid concerns they could cripple the reef's $5.1 billion tourism industry.
Association of Marine Park Tourism Operators (AMPTO) executive director Col McKenzie predicted popular areas such as the Whitsundays could be free of the pest under the group's federally-funded eradication program.
"Each couple of months the plague just moves a few kilometres down the track and now the major infestation is essentially about half way between Townsville and the Whitsundays," he said.
"So it'll go through a peak and taper off, so I would guess about March, April next it'll be about time to wind the whole thing up."
The starfish, which can weigh up to 100kg and devour vast amounts of coral, is capable of devastating large areas of the iconic reef.
Originating north of Cairns, they are found in plague proportions with one site alone estimated to be home to more than 10 million.
Divers spend 10 days at each site killing the starfish by injecting them with sodium bisulphate - a pool chemical that dissolves the animal into a "seafood soup" to be eaten by other marine creatures.
The job was extremely labour intensive, Mr McKenzie said.
"If you had a crown of thorns the size of a dinner plate, you need to inject it five times," he said.
"But if you take a bigger one than that, and these things get up to 1.3 metres in diameter which is coffee table size ... it might require those five injections and then one on every single arm.
"They can have up to 25 arms so in that case you're talking 30 injections."
The starfish die within two days.
Mr McKenzie said it was possible the starfish could make an unwelcome return despite being removed from an area.
"It's like fighting a bushfire where all you can do is protect the assets," he said.