Gary Cranitch / Queensland Museum/Great Barrier Reef Foundation

The RangerBot is an autonomous underwater vehicle and the first vision-based robot designed to protect coral reef systems.

Upon first glance, the crown-of-thorns starfish looks a lot like an enemy creature you’d find in a nature-based video game. Long spikes cover its body, which can reach 2½ feet in diameter. It’s somewhat reminiscent of a land mine, if a land mine had 14 to 21 movable arms.

But its exterior isn’t nearly as intimidating as its appetite. By the time a crown-of-thorns matures at 4 months old, it eats live coral voraciously — up to its own body weight in one evening. Just one can consume 20 to 32 feet of living coral a year. Thirty of them per 2½ acres can kill an entire reef’s coral.

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