"Scientists Close In On What’s Killing Sea Stars"

"ORCAS ISLAND, Wash. — Drew Harvell peers into the nooks and crannies along the rocky shoreline of Eastsound on Orcas Island. Purple and orange starfish clutch the rocks, as if hanging on for dear life. In fact, they are.

“It’s a lot worse than it was last week,” says Harvell, a marine epidemiologist at Cornell University. She’s been leading nationwide efforts to understand what is causing starfish to die by the millions up and down North America’s Pacific shores and on the east coast as well. It’s been called sea star wasting syndrome because of how quickly the stars become sick and deteriorate.

“It’s the largest mortality event for marine diseases we’ve seen,” Harvell said. “It affects over twenty species on our coast and it’s been causing catastrophic mortality.”

Scientists have been working for months to find out what’s causing the massive die-off and now Harvell and others have evidence that an infectious disease caused by a bacteria or virus, may be at the root of the problem. The disease, they say, could be compounded by warming waters, which put the sea stars under stress, making them more vulnerable to the pathogen."

Kate Campbell and Ashley Ahearn report for EarthFix/OPB June 16, 2014.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014