Population of starfish in the West Coast is reviving after nearly four years, researchers have shown.
Back in 2013-14 millions of from British Columbia to Mexico were killed due to Sea Star Wasting Syndrome – a mysterious disease that is still to be understood well by scientists. The starfish affected by the syndrome develop lesions and then disintegrate, their arms turning into blobs of goo.
Researchers are still trying to determine the cause of the Sea Star Wasting Syndrome, but they believe it may be some sort of virus that is causing it. The species is rebounding with scientists spotting sea stars in Southern California tide pools and elsewhere.
“They are coming back, big time,” Darryl Deleske, aquarist for the Cabrillo Marine Aquarium in Los Angeles told reporters. “It’s a huge difference,” Deleske said. “A couple of years ago, you wouldn’t find any. I dove all the way as far as Canada, specifically looking for sea stars, and found not a single one.”
Similar die-offs of starfish on the West Coast were reported in the 1970s, ’80s and ’90s, but the latest outbreak was far larger and more widespread, according to a report by researchers at the University of Santa Cruz. Beginning with ochre stars off Washington state, the disease spread, killing off mottled stars, leather stars, sunflower stars, rainbows and six-armed stars. It hit Southern California by December 2013.
“When it did (arrive), you just started to see them melt everywhere,” said Deleske. “You’d see an arm here, an arm there.”
The recovery has been promising. Four adult sea stars, each about 7 to 8 inches long, were spotted this month at Crystal Cove State Park in Newport Beach.
“It’s a treasure we always hope to find,” said Kaitlin Magliano, education coordinator at the Crystal Cove Conservancy.
“We lost all of them,” she said. “It’s good to see we have some surviving and thriving. Maybe the next generation will be more resilient.”
The stars aren’t out of danger yet. The wasting syndrome never completely disappeared in Northern and Central California and it has reappeared in the Salish Sea region of Washington state, according to a November report by the University of Santa Cruz.