A diver is pictured next to coral infected with white syndrome, off Lizard Island, in Queensland, Australia, in a handout photo released on February 5, 2013. 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.

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.

Scientists at James Cook University 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 micro-organisms that could thrive on that dead and dying tissue," researcher Joseph Pollock told AFP.

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 slows it by about three-fold," he said, adding that the disease was often associated with warmer water temperatures.

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