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.
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Do you support or oppose each of the following policies as part of the recovery from the coronavirus pandemic?<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDQzODcyMC9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYxNjg4MzY4OX0.B-bt9mltOhK0MHFbzK8G3_8sBkDAeUsAWm-AhNZYoxQ/img.png?width=980" id="acd43" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="8724178274b9f96e27055f74a1bafe20" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
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Aerial view of the Tongass National Forest. Alan Wu / Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0
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Hamstrung by coronavirus lockdowns, frustrated school strikers have spent months staging digital protests against world leaders failing to act urgently on climate change.
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Opportunity for a New Normal<p>Last September's Global Climate Strike drew young and old protestors around the world, with organizers estimating a global turnout of 7.6 million, including an estimated 270,000 people in Berlin. Activists have adjusted this year's event to account for social distancing and different levels of coronavirus restrictions in cities taking part.</p><p>They say COVID-19 also presents opportunities.</p><p>"The pandemic shows that we can change our normal daily life, and we are very able to adjust to a situation of crisis," she says. The key question is how economies get back on their feet: "We have the possibility to build a new normal, to build a renewable world order, and an environmentally just, climate-just normal for everybody."</p><p>In July, Jeng was among 20 female Fridays for Future activists from the Global South to sign an open letter to G20 finance ministers warning that their decisions in "exclusive backrooms" over stimulus packages and corporate bailouts would "lock in development pathways for decades."</p><p>"The system is not broken, it was built to be unjust. We don't need recovery, we need a reboot," the letter reads, stressing that "black people, indigenous peoples and people of color," have been disproportionately hit by the economic, climate and coronavirus crises. </p>
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