Sunflower Star Imperiled by Sea Star Wasting Epidemic

Sunflower Star Imperiled by Sea Star Wasting Epidemic


[Narrator] There’s an epidemic
in the ocean. Since 2013, a viral disease has been
turning sea stars in the Northeast Pacific into melted piles of goo. Of the 20 or so
species of sea stars affected by the virus, one of the hardest hit were sunflower stars.
Until now, we haven’t known just how bad the decline was. But new research
has begun to reveal the longer term continental scale impact of the
epidemic on certain species. Scientists in the US are now suggesting
we formally list the once common sunflower star as an endangered species. Trained citizen science divers from
California to Alaska counted sunflower stars on over 11,000 dives,
while scientific divers from the Hakai Institute carried out more detailed
surveys on the BC Central Coast. When they looked at all the data,
scientists noticed something in common where they saw outbreaks of the
virus—anomalously warm water. We still don’t know how these warm
water anomalies and the virus interact. But researchers say these warmer than
normal water temperatures were related to dramatic sea star declines. While divers
can patrol waters near the surface, we didn’t know whether sunflower sea stars
might have found refuge at deeper depths. But thousands of NOAA bottom trawl
surveys have revealed that when it comes to sunflower stars, the
disease didn’t stay in the shallows. For example, data from Washington State
shows a crash in populations in both shallow nearshore and deep offshore
environments after the epidemic began in 2013. Data from other areas on the coast
are similar. With population declines of as much as 80 to 100% in areas across the
3,000 kilometers from Alaska to California. Sea stars may appear to be the passive
bottom dwellers of the deep blue, but they are actually pivotal predators
in this ecosystem. The loss of sunflower stars is already
showing massive repercussions on ocean food webs and kelp forest
habitats up and down the coast. One thing is for sure, scientists and
recreational divers alike will be checking to see when, or if,
the sea stars recover.

5 thoughts on “Sunflower Star Imperiled by Sea Star Wasting Epidemic”

  1. I'm surprised they haven't looked at the effects of Naval weapons testing, especially EMF off the west coast, nor the effects of Fukushima. Both BC and Calif for hot spots for radioactivity back when they were monitoring it.

    It doesn't make sense that sea critters that can live in the 65 degree waters off California would find 45 degree waters of BC too warm.

    It would be very interesting to know if the aquariums of Seattle, Monterrey, and BC, which use sea water, have the same problems with their sea stars in their exhibits.

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