Another concern about ocean health – starfish are dying from a disease whose cause is unknown.
Scientists are struggling to find the trigger for a disease that appears to be ravaging starfish in record numbers along the U.S. West Coast, causing the sea creatures to lose their limbs and turn to slime in a matter of days.
Marine biologists and ecologists will launch an extensive survey this week along the coasts of California, Washington state and Oregon to determine the reach and source of the deadly syndrome, known as “star wasting disease.”
The syndrome that rapidly kills starfish was known before but never at these levels. According to a report by the Pacific Rocky Intertidal Monitoring Program at the University of California at Santa Cruz, this summer sea stars suffering from the disease have been found in dozens of coastal sites ranging from southeast Alaska to Orange County, California. In one survey location, almost all of the hundreds of starfish in a tide pool were dying from the disease. The cause is unknown.
Why care about starfish? Starfish eat animals that may become problematic in large numbers, like mussels. The mass death of a particular species or genus results in a disruption of ocean food chains. A decrease in biodiversity will have unexpected repercussions.