The Canadian Press –
Jan 30, 2019 / 1:22 pm | Story:
Photo: The Canadian Press
A newly released study says a combination of warm waters and infectious diseases has been identified as the cause of the decline of the populations of sunflower starfish along the Pacific coast.
Study co-author Drew Harvell, a Cornell University professor of ecology and evolutionary biology, says the heat wave in the oceans caused by global warming is making the star wasting disease worse and killing the starfish faster.
Scientists note that in the three years since 2013, populations of this species have declined between 80 and 100 percent in deep and shallow waters from Alaska and British Columbia right down to California.
The study says the sunflower sea star is about the size of a manhole cover with an enormous appetite that crawls over the sea floor like a robotic vacuum cleaner, eating everything in its path.
Joseph Gaydos, with the SeaDoc Society out of the University of California, Davis, says sunflower sea stars are important because they keep sea urchins under control.
Gaydos, who is the senior author of the study, says without sunflower stars, urchin populations expand and threaten kelp forests and biodiversity.