ASTORIA, Ore. (AP) — Scientists on the West Coast are calling for action to help the sunflower sea star, one of the world’s largest sea stars, recover from a catastrophic population decline.
Experts say a sea star wasting disease that began in 2013 wiped out 95% of the population from Alaska’s Aleutian Islands to Baja, Mexico. California Peninsula, Astorian reported.
This decline prompted the International Union for Conservation of Nature to classify the species as endangered in 2020. A petition was filed in 2021 to list the species under the federal Endangered Species Act.
Steven Rumrill, Shellfish Project Leader Oregon The Department of Fish and Wildlife said that in his more than 40 years as a marine scientist, he had never seen a species as widespread a decline as the sunflower sea star.
Sea stars, some of the world’s largest and can spread more than 3 feet (91 centimeters), prey on the kelp-eating sea urchin. Without them, Sea urchin populations have explodedA troubling decline in kelp forests, which provide food and shelter for many aquatic species on the West Coast.
Rumril contributed to a recently published map of sea star recovery as a guide for scientists and conservationists.
“It breaks your heart to see a species go to extinction so quickly,” Rumrill said. “We recognize that on a global scale, human impacts have had a huge impact on populations and many extinctions worldwide. Here’s one that’s happening right before our eyes.”
The Roadmap was completed in collaboration with The Nature Conservancy, the National Marine Fisheries Service, and state agencies in California, Oregon, Washington, and Alaska.
Sea star wasting disease has killed an estimated 5.75 billion sunflower sea stars, according to the document.
The source of the outbreak has not been definitively identified, but the document points to evidence that warming ocean waters from human-caused climate change is increasing the severity of the disease and may have fueled the outbreak.
If the species is listed as endangered by the Act, Rumrill said, federal funding will be available to continue the research.
National Marine Fisheries Service spokesman Matthew Burks said whether the agency recommends the sea star be listed under the Endangered Species Act will be published in the Federal Register early next year.
Although sunflower sea stars appear to be most vulnerable to sea star wasting disease, they are among the approximately 20 documented sea stars at risk on the West Coast.
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