Ocean Ecosystems at Risk
Written by SurfWriter Girls Sunny Magdaug and Patti Kishel
In philosophy and literature, the starfish is a symbol of enlightenment, magical powers and renewal. It’s able to regenerate and grow back limbs.
For all its abilities, though, it's currently facing a threat that could be even more powerful than it is – a wasting disease that is threatening to wipe out the whole starfish population.
Also known as sea stars, the colorful species found off the West Coast of North America is rapidly vanishing from sight.
“I’ve never seen a decline of this magnitude of a species,” said Drew Harvell, the lead author of a study in the journal Science Advances that has brought attention to the plight of the sea stars.
Once they were “as common as a robin,” Harvell observed, noting it was hard to imagine what was happening to them. A marine ecologist at Cornell University, she calls the epidemic "catastrophic and widespread" and explores this in her new book Ocean Outbreak.
Brought on partly by rising sea temperatures from global warming, the illness is affecting more than 20 types of starfish, with the sunflower sea stars normally found in the deep waters of the Pacific Northwest among the most susceptible.
The starfish aren't the only ones at risk. As their numbers drop, it causes a ripple effect that endangers other sea life who depend on them to keep the ocean's ecosystem in balance.
Starfish eat sea urchins, which eat the ocean's kelp beds that provide food and shelter to sea life and help remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.
Without the starfish to keep the sea urchins in check, the voracious urchins are devouring the kelp beds.
To save the starfish and other endangered marine life we’ll need more than magic. It will take scientists, government, and environmental groups working together.
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