Scientists have stated that baby sea stars are starting to appear along the California coast. Since 2013, millions of sea stars have been killed by a troublesome disease that has baffled scientists. Ben Miner, an associate professor of biology at Western Washington University, stated that he and a team of marine biologists found a few young sea stars around 40 feet below the surface. Therefore, there is a bit of hope in restoring the sea star population in the coastal Pacific.
In areas spread out along the Pacific coast, researchers have documented multiple clusters of hundreds of young sea stars. They said that the groups of sea creatures look very promising that will allow a repopulation in the areas along the coast. The mass killing was caused by disease that made millions of orange, red, and purple of sea stars that would develop lesions, lose their arms, and essentially disintegrate. The disease affected around 20 species from Baja California to the Aleutian Islands.
Pete Raimondi, professor or evolutionary biology and ecology at the University of California, Santa Cruz, explained that more sea stars have found than in the last 15 years combined. Miner stated the young sea stars could possibly be more immune against the devastating disease, which is a strain of densovirus.
Now that biologists have found the clusters of the sea creatures, they have started focusing on the movement and travels of the young sea stars. They are tracking whether they survive the relocation and what happens when when a major predator of mussels, urchins, and other marine species is lost.
Marine biologists stated that possibly the reason why there are so many young sea stars is the fact that when the adult sea stars became stressed from the disease, they let out millions of sperm and eggs into the water, allowing for a chance to save their species. In the last few months, conditions in the coastal Pacific waters have been good enough to push the infants to the rocky shores to stick to rocks and begin to grow and mature.
Raimondi explained that it will take a few years of tracking and consistently observing them to see if they will begin to repopulate the area. In their absence, since sea stars are the main predators in the area, it could have altered the ecosystem. Scientists have observed sea urchins moving into the area as the new animal at the top of the food chain in the coastal waters.
After affecting over 20 percent of the population, sea stars have seen to be strong enough and in enough numbers to make a comeback in the California coastal waters. Although a recent survey showed that the disease is still in the area, scientists believe it has decreased, affecting less of the population. “I found more babies to count,” one of the scientists in the study stated. When the young sea stars where observed and tracked, they found that all of them are healthy and locking on to rocks on the coast to grow and repopulate the area.
By Alex Lemieux
Photo by Richard Ling – Creativecommons Flickr License