Promising Starfish News
You may remember reading about the devastating disease that killed millions of Sea Stars along nearly the entire length of North America’s Pacific coast. From Alaska to Mexico, the “wasting disease” decimated numerous Sea Star species, killing as much as 80% of the Pacific-coast Sea Star population.
Marine biologists still can’t pinpoint the exact cause of the wasting disease, but they do offer some positive news for at least one Sea Star species.
Researchers have reported that a record number of young Ochre (or Purple) Sea Stars (Pisaster ochraceus) have appeared along the Pacific coast. In fact, in some places off the Oregon coast, so many young purple sea stars clung to submerged rocks that divers initially mistook them for acorn barnacles.
A top predator, Sea Stars serve a vital environmental role: maintaining the equilibrium of their coastal ecosystem. “Purple sea stars are fierce predators, and without them, other organisms are multiplying without resistance and upsetting the balance of West Coast ecosystems.” Mussels, for example, normally coexist with barnacles. But without Sea Stars to check their growth, the more aggressive Mussels have taken marine territory away from the barnacles. A new generation of hungry Sea Stars will help reduce the number of mussels and help barnacles compete with them more effectively.
So does this Ochre Sea Star population boom mean that Wasting Disease syndrome has completely run its course? No. The disease still affects other Sea Star species, and we still don’t know if juvenile Ochre Sea Stars will develop the disease as they mature. But the emergence of millions of young Sea Stars offers hope. And hope is a good thing.
You’ll find more information about Sea Stars and the Sea Star recovery, in the following articles:
• After shocking die-off, Oregon sea stars stage an epic comeback
• Baby starfish stage big comeback in waters off Oregon and California
• Sea stars making a comeback: Researchers study reason for die-off
• Wasting Disease Clears Way for Young Sea Stars, for Now