Sea Stars Imperiled by Wasting Disease Along West Coast

sea star
Sunflower sea star, by Janna Nichols

By Kat Kerlin

The combination of ocean warming and an infectious wasting disease has devastated populations of large sunflower sea stars once abundant along the West Coast of North America in just a few years, according to a study co-led by the University of California, Davis, and Cornell University published Jan. 30 in the journal Science Advances.

“At one time plentiful in nearshore waters, the sunflower sea stars right now cannot be found off the California coast and are rare into Alaska,” said Drew Harvell, Cornell professor of ecology and evolutionary biology, a co-lead author. “Numbers of the sea stars have stayed so low in the past three years, we consider them endangered in the southern part of their range, and we don’t have data for northern Alaska.”

Since 2013, sea star wasting disease has brought about massive mortality in multiple sea star species from Mexico to Alaska. The East Coast has not been immune, as the disease has affected the shores from New Jersey to New England.

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