Sea Star Demise

February 24, 2016

seastarOvercast with some occasional sharp sunshine this early Wednesday on California’s north coast, with rain still expected for Friday — could be more than half-an-inch, but we’ll just have to wait and see, huh?

In local ocean news, apparently a horrible ‘wasting disease‘ attacking sea stars (or, ‘star fish’) all along the Pacific coast, has actually become “…truly a contagious epidemic.”

(Illustration: ‘A common starfish on Trinidad State Beach,‘ found here).

Nearly three years ago, sea stars in habitats from Canada to San Diego was found to be literally wasting away — studies indicated lesions appeared, followed by decay of tissue surrounding the lesions, which leads to eventual fragmentation of the body and death. ‘Fragmentation of the body’ doesn’t sound too appetizing.
Even here in the local area, Humboldt State University (see the quote-link above) conducted research and discovered a good 10-to-20-percent of star fish on the north coast could be dying, or dead already.
And still bad news…

Just last week, reports that warming waters in the Atlantic and Pacific oceans have increased turning sea stars to mush and killing lobsters by burrowing under their shells and causing lesions, and at least one species of sea star has vanished off the coasts of Washington and British Columbia.
From Oregon Public Broadcasting last Friday:

Now in a study published Monday, scientists are confirming that warm temperatures played a part in what’s being called the single largest, most-geographically widespread marine disease that’s ever been recorded.

“That was really direct evidence for the role of temperature at making them die at a faster rate,” said Drew Harvell, a Cornell University professor who co-author of the study.

The wasting disease has infected more than 20 species of sea stars from as far south as Mexico and as far north as Alaska.
Some species, like the sunflower star, have been so hit hard in California, Oregon, Washington, British Columbia and southern Alaska that diver surveys since then have found very few survivors.
“That’s nearly its entire range. The last bit of its range that remains are in the Aleutians,” Harvell said.
“So we’re pretty concerned about the well being of that species.”

There’s no cure for this disease, either. The sea star die-off is seemingly a two-pronged attack: Studies last year revealed a virus found in starfish since at least the 1940s was the cause of the current outbreak, and now, confirmation this pathogen’s spread is worsened by the warming of the oceans due to climate change.

A certain postscript via the Seattle-Times over this past weekend: ‘As important as the ecological effects of the disease are, the starfish meltdown affects people, too. The first ocean creature many kids see or touch, starfish are an ambassador to an unseen world that needs all the friends it can get, James said.
“How do you connect kids to the ocean without that tidepool life?”

Another brick in the wall…sea-star feature.

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