By Maya K.
Growing up on the shores of a small beach on Vancouver Island, I have always been fascinated by sea stars. Their slimy skin, their spindly arms, and their beauty colours have always captured my attention. When I went on a six-day kayak trip last summer near Tofino, I was so excited to marvel at all the sea creatures. And we did see quite a variety: sea slugs, anemones, porpoises, jelly fish—but only a few sea stars. What has caused these strange little creatures of BC to have disappeared?
A Little Background
Sea stars (or star fish) are incredibly common to the West coast, with over 30 species inhabiting our waters. Sea stars are typically known for their five extremities and ability to regenerate limbs which are cut off. However, some species can have up to 40 arms! Flip a sea star over, and you will see a soft underbelly with thousands of tiny cilia (very tiny feet which help the starfish to move). Shockingly, sea stars have a strictly carnivorous diet, consisting of mainly oysters and clams.
But since 2013, a “sea star wasting disease” has been drastically killing off the marine creature. The disease leads to wounds, lost limbs, and a very rapid death. In the past six years, scientists have noticed an 80-100% drop in star fish populations along the Pacific coast. Scientists believe that the disease is a result of increasing ocean temperature, meaning it is likely a cause of climate change. Although this disease first became a problem in 2013, it is still severely impacting sea star populations. Ocean Watch BC still lists seas stars in “critical condition” and to be at risk for extinction.
From 2017 to early 2019, there was a lot of concern from the scientific community regarding the sea star wasting disease. However, today there is no new information being shared about sea stars’ condition. Yet sea stars continue to die off at rapid rates. But you may be able to help!
Biologist Jackie Hildering says that by reducing carbon emissions, we can curb climate change and potentially stop sea star wasting disease. So if you want to save sea stars, try to live a little more green. Take the bus or carpool and avoid single-use plastics. While these actions may seem small, together they will improve our chance of having oceans abundant with beautiful sea stars.
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