TV: Massacre along West Coast continues — Alarming, bleak situation as disease re-emerges — Hundreds of millions of sea stars estimated dead — Changes in cellular matrix observed, “a lot of interesting genes being found” — Other sea life disappearing as tidepool communities ‘shift’ (VIDEO)

Published: September 15th, 2015 at 11:38 pm ET
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National Geographic, Sep 15, 2015 (emphasis added): Why Are So Many Starfish Dying? — Sea stars along North America’s west coast have been dying at an alarming rate. A syndrome known as sea star wasting disease causes the animal to lose limbs and eventually disintegrate, leaving behind a pile of white goo…

National Geographic, Sep 15, 2015: The massacre of sea stars along the West Coast continues, although the pace has slowed because so many already have died… Some areas have seen up to a 90 percent decline in their populations… Scientists [are] investigating why this disease… is now rampaging through 19 species of sea stars… In some of the locations hit early on with this wasting disease, [Pete Raimondi, a marine ecologist at the University of California, Santa Cruz] and colleagues are already starting to see a shift in the animal community. In tidepools, where there used to be a mix of organisms including sea stars, scientists are now seeing mussels dominating… in the Pacific Northwest, sea stars have either gotten smaller in body size, or they are big, with few in the mid-size range, says Drew Harvell, a marine ecologist at Cornell University.

National Geographic transcript, Sep 15, 2015:  Ben Miner, marine biologist at Western Washington Univ.: “From Mexico all the way to Alaska, there’s been a massive die-off of sea stars. Estimates are in the tens to hundreds of millions of sea stars have died in the last couple of years. It’s one of the largest mortality events associated with a disease that we’ve ever observed in the ocean… Several years ago stars covered the bottom of the seas… we found less than 20 today. It’s just depressing.”

UC Santa Cruz, Aug 18, 2015: From Washington down through central California… most of these sites show significant decreases in population size… indicating a high impact overall… Monitoring sites just north of Point Conception, at the southern end of central CA, tend to show higher prevalence of symptoms… The four Orange County monitoring sites in southern California turned up a total of four ochre stars, with two of the sites having zero ochre stars remaining in the monitoring plots… past total abundance for these sites would have averaged over 150 sea stars… In the Salish Sea/Puget Sound region of Washington… recent observations from citizen scientists indicate that the disease is re-emerging in some areas. A few sites with high numbers of juvenile ochre stars and mottled stars in winter 2014/spring 2015 have shown significant declines

University of Texas at Arlington, Jul 28, 2015: Lauren Fuess, a Ph.D. candidate in quantitative biology, and her team looked at the wasting disease responsible for the largest die-off of sea stars ever recorded… Wasting disease affects nearly 20 different species and it has caused up to almost 90 percent mortality in some areas off the West Coast over the last two years. “The sea stars protect the rocky shores, keeping them from becoming dominated by mussels,” Fuess said. “When you remove the sea stars, you see dramatic declines of other species, so basically you go from a diverse ecosystem to a mussel-coated beach.”…. “We’re looking at an increasing rate of diseases that may be linked to climate change as well as pollution in the ocean,” Mydlarz said. “What we’re working on… is looking to see if some of this temperature stress due to climate change or pollution are causing the animals, such as the sea stars and the corals, to be more susceptible to diseases… Fuess [said] “We found a lot of interesting genes – including the first melanin gene ever recorded in a sea star.”…  The team also found several changes in the extra cellular matrix and collagen gene. “Genes that degrade collagen… increased in the stars we studied,” Fuess said. “So, you have more degradation of that essential collagen and breakdown of the matrix… We also saw changes in nervous genes that might be contributing to that twisting of the arms.”

Daily Astorian, Aug 27, 2015: Melissa Miner, a research associate at the University of California, Santa Cruz, with MARINe, the Multi-Agency Rock Intertidal Network that surveys sea stars along the entire West Coast, said populations are still low… In June, researchers began seeing many sick sea stars in Washington’s intertidal waters again. Fishermen are still finding signs of the disease when they pull sea stars up, Miner said… The epidemic is one of the largest marine disease events worldwide, Miner added… Warmer waters have affected other species, such as seabirds, impacting the entire ecosystem, Keyser said.

Associated Press, Aug 30, 2015: … Sea star populations have plummeted along the West Coast since wasting syndrome was first noticed on a Washington beach more than two years ago. Scientists still aren’t sure what’s causing the die-offs… The situation along the outer coast remains bleak… populations remain far below what they were before wasting syndrome… “Now, we’re starting to see it crop up again in the same places as last year,” she said.

Watch the National Geographic segment here

Published: September 15th, 2015 at 11:38 pm ET
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