New research into coral reefs in the Pacific show sea snails are causing catastrophic damage.
Victoria University's Costal Ecology Laboratory Director, Dr Jeff Shima, has been tracing the fate of coral in French Polynesia.
He says a type of worm snail native to the Pacific can inhibit the growth of some species of coral by up to eighty per cent.
"The shrinking or erosion of the islands is counteracted by growth of corals and so that growth needs to be maintained for these islands to bascially maintain a barrier reef that protects lagoons from big storm surges and so forth. So potentially these worm snails could compromise that if in fact they're having a fairly large wide spread sort of effect at the scale of a whole island."
Dr Shima says coral reefs are important to island economies because they provide a habit for fish that are harvested, bring in tourists who like to dive, and offer protection to low lying islands.