Massive Starfish Die-Off Linked to Warming Oceans
Starfish, otherwise known as sea stars, have been suffering the effects of a mysterious disease that has decimated their numbers in both the Atlantic and Pacific oceans.
The disease was first observed a few years ago and now scientists have found a link between its prevalence and warming waters.
Unfortunately, since the latest outbreak was discovered in 2013 it’s impacted dozens of species and is believed to have killed millions of them. According to scientists, it wiped out 90 percent of some populations from Mexico to Alaska between 2013 and 2014.
While the disease has been linked to a fast-acting virus, according to a new study just published in the journal Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, scientists have also linked sea stars’ risk of becoming infected with the disease to warmer temperatures for the first time.
For the study, a group of scientists from Cornell University’s Ecology of Infectious Marine Diseases Research Coordination Network focused on the ochre star in a lab setting and various locations around the San Juan Islands off the coast of Washington.
“We were able to show warmer temperatures were related with the higher risk of disease,” said Drew Harvell, professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at Cornell University and a co-author of the study. “We suspected there was a temperature link, but we really needed to look at the field data to pull that out and we were able to back that up with lab experiments that found that in warmer temperatures, they died faster.”
Sea stars are beautiful and fascinating, but there are plenty of other reasons to want to save them. As a predator and keystone species, their presence keeps marine ecosystems healthy. It’s not entirely clear what will happen if whole populations continue to vanish, but their absence is already being felt in some places.
Scientists hope their work will lead to more clues about the disease and whether some survivors may have a resistance that can be used to help stop its spread.
While they are bringing attention to the plight of disappearing sea stars, they’re also raising concerns about how other species are being affected by diseases that are helped along with warmer temperatures. In a second study they examined how disease outbreaks were affected by temperatures that impact species including corals, turtles, bivalves, eelgrasses and lobsters, in addition to how threats could be mitigated.
“Advanced warning of the right conditions for disease allows marine managers to increase surveillance and implement preventive strategies, such as reducing pollution, boat traffic and transmission dangers,” said Harvell.
While scientists continue to look for solutions, UC Santa Barbara, the University of Washington and Cornell University have set up sites for the public to help with a little citizen science by reporting observations. More info on how to help can be found here and here.
YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE
By James O'Hare
There are 20 million people in the world facing famine in South Sudan, Somalia, Nigeria and Yemen. In developed nations, too, people go hungry. Venezuela, for instance, is enduring food insecurity on a national level as a result of economic crisis and political corruption. In the U.S., the land of supposed excess, 12.7 percent of households were food insecure in 2015, meaning they didn't know where their next meal would come from.
Artists are taking the climate crisis into frame and the results are emotional, beautiful and stirring.
So you've seen the best climate change cartoons and shared them with your friends. You've showed your family the infographics on climate change and health, infographics on how the grid works and infographics about clean, renewable energy. You've even forwarded these official National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration graphs that explain the 10 clear indicators of climate change to your colleagues at the office.
As the Trump administration moves full speed ahead on boosting the oil and fossil fuel industry, opposition to increased pipeline construction is cropping up in different communities around the country.
By Simon Evans
Last Saturday, two dead whales washed up on the coast of Suffolk, in eastern England, and a third was spotted floating at sea.
What happened next illustrates how news can spread and evolve into misinformation, when reported by journalists rushing to publish before confirming basic facts or sourcing their own quotes.
By Monica Amarelo and Paul Pestano
Sun safety is a crucial part of any outdoor activity for kids, and sunscreen can help protect children's skin from harmful ultraviolet rays. Kids often get sunburned when they're outside unprotected for longer than expected. Parents need to plan ahead and keep sun protection handy in their cars or bags.
By Joe McCarthy
A lot of people take part in community clean-up efforts—spending a Saturday morning picking up litter in a park, mowing an overgrown field or painting a fence.
A coalition of conservation groups and others announced Thursday that a historic number of comments and petitions of support have been submitted to the U.S. Department of the Interior in support of Bears Ears National Monument. Despite the entirely inadequate 15-day comment period ending on May 26, more than 685,000 comments in support of Bears Ears National Monument have been collected.