The Tale of the Disappearing Sea Stars

From the Giant Plumose Anemones to the tiny flatworms found underneath the rocks of the intertidal zone, the coast of British Columbia is full of amazing invertebrates that never fail to catch the eye. Together these creatures work to create a complicated community of species that are tightly knit and highly dependent on each other. While there are many creatures within this community that pique the interest of beachcombers and divers alike, sea stars are one of the most iconic species as they have captured the attention of countless people from the cartoon watchers laughing at “Patrick” the sea star, to the many people who walk along the Stanley Park seawall and catch a glimpse of a sea star clinging to a rock in the waves with their suction cup-like feet. And who can possibly resist the appeal of a critter that has the ability to bring its stomach outside of its own body to feed on its prey? They are truly captivating animals.

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Sea star acrobatics. (Photo Credit: James Yan)

Unfortunately, these magnificent creatures are facing a large crisis in the waters around British Columbia and the Pacific Coast; they are dying off by the thousands due to an elusive and not completely understood outbreak that has been dubbed the “Sea Star Wasting Disease.” This disease causes a striking response; the arms of the sea stars fall off one-by-one, and relatively rapidly the sea stars begin to pass away.

Sea Stars

Early signs of Sea Star Wasting Disease. (Image by http://awesomeocean.com/2015/05/05/take-sea-star-wasting-disease/)

Now, you may be tempted to think that the loss of sea stars is not that big of a deal as there are many other species to take their place, but in reality, they play a large role in the coastal environment that they inhabit because they are often considered a cornerstone species as they are an integral part of a complex food web. Therefore, when we lose sea stars, it can cause major fluctuations in the numbers of a whole bunch of other species as well! As you can see, the loss of sea stars is not just a small issue with a minuscule impact as it can have a profound effect on all the species that call the coast of British Columbia home. Because of these changes brought about by the death of the sea stars, the story of the disappearing sea stars is one to keep your eyes on as it has the potential to greatly alter which marvelous invertebrates that we see along the coast of British Columbia and a loss of any of these species is a serious loss for all of us!

If you would like to take a closer look at the Sea Star Wasting Disease along the Pacific Coast and to stay updated on the topic, visit this website: http://www.eeb.ucsc.edu/pacificrockyintertidal/data-products/sea-star-wasting/updates.html

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