Last winter I was up at Salt Creek on the Strait of Juan de Fuca with some friend spending the weekend taking photos and catching up. It was while on an outing to a nearby cove that I noticed some juvenile sea stars on the beach. They had all their limbs and I remember asking myself, “Was the worse over”?

Sea Stars Making A Come Back

It was like something out of a seaside horror movie.

Sea stars, once familiar and beautiful and iconic, suddenly had lesions covering their bodies; a sign that something was horribly wrong. Within a day, the stars with lesions started to melt, turning into globs of goo. And, soon after, any sea stars near them suffered the same gruesome fate.

However, sea stars appear to be making a comeback on the West Coast four years after a mysterious syndrome killed millions of them, and local scientists continue monitoring with hopes populations will grow.

In Southern California and elsewhere, the palm-size sea stars are showing up in record numbers, compared with the past few years.

From 2013 to 2014, sea star wasting syndrome hit sea stars from British Columbia to Mexico.

The starfish would develop lesions and then disintegrate, their arms turning into blobs of goo.

“When you’re swimming along on the bottom and all of a sudden you see just an arm or a piece, or this white mass of goo going out in the shape of a star, that’s pretty depressing,” said Howard Teas, a citizen scientist who monitors sea stars in Jefferson County for the disease.

“It’s a roller coaster because you can’t help the emotional part when you’re looking at them and this thing is dead.”

Teas is part of the Port Townsend Marine Science Center’s effort to monitor starfish populations locally. He dives under the pier at Fort Worden, in Discovery Bay and in two areas at Indian Island.

sea stars
Sea-stars along the reef of Destruction Island. Photograph by Steve Weileman (www.xexplore.com)

Suspected Virus

The cause is unclear but researchers say it might be a virus. A team from Cornell University attempted to identify possible viruses and bacteria that might be responsible. It also could have been caused by an infectious agent, such as a pathogen, the report reads.

Similar die-offs of starfish on the West Coast were reported in the 1970s, ’80s and ’90s, but the latest outbreak was far larger and more widespread, according to a report by researchers at the University of California, Santa Cruz.

Sources

Steve Weileman

I've been lucky enough to have some of my work featured on CNN, Outside TV and, National Geographic. Join me as I continue to both learn the art of film-making and document the exciting new modern world of citizen-science. His work has been featured on CNN, National Geographic, and OutsideTV, as well as numerous local outlets.

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