HASH(0xbfdf6c)

HASH(0xbfdf6c)

Sunflower sea star nearly wiped out by virus in B.C., Washington waters: report

Die-off of sea stars a special concern: report

  • Oct. 26, 2016 2:00 p.m.

VANCOUVER — There was once a galaxy of sunflower sea stars in the Salish Sea off the British Columbia and Washington state coasts, but a new study says their near disappearance from the ocean floor should be of special concern.

Researchers at the University of California, Davis, say a wasting disease that impacted many star fish from Alaska to Mexico was devastating for the sunflower sea star.

Joseph Gaydos, one of the report’s authors and the chief scientist with the SeaDoc Society, said the sunflower that covered the ocean floor in many areas off southern Vancouver Island and Washington state has been virtually wiped out.

“We’re really concerned that one could completely disappear,” he said in an interview.

The West Coast is renowned for its 28 varieties of sea stars, some not found anywhere else in the world. In 2013, divers and researchers started noticing the star fish were dying from a disease that experts couldn’t figure out.

Three years later, they believe a virus is at fault, but Gaydos said there may also be other factors such as water temperature that makes certain star fish more susceptible.

The study, which was released Wednesday on the online science journal PLOS ONE, says the virus is the largest such disease epidemic affecting multiple species of marine organisms in the world.

Gaydos said it’s like a canine distemper virus that tears through the Serengeti region of Africa, killing everything from lions to jackals.

“There are some diseases out there that affect multiple different species, but we haven’t really found one in the marine environment that has had this much impact.”

But the die-off of the sunflower, a tire-sized, multi-legged, colourful orange or purple star fish, could have other implications, Gaydos said.

“They’re major predators, they eat almost anything they can get a hold of, everything from urchins to mussels, to other sea stars and they’ll even scavenge. I saw a picture from a diver where one was eating a bird that had died.” 

Researchers saw evidence of increases in red and green urchins, which feed on kelp, Gaydos said.

“Kelp is like a forest, creating a matrix for all the other species to live in, an ecosystem engineer.”

He said scientists have been in discussions with the U.S. National Marine Fisheries Service to have the sunflower listed as a species of concern, an informal term referring to a species that may be in need of conservation.

The next step after that is to speak with the Canadian government, he said.

The researchers don’t know why the sunflower was especially susceptible to the wasting disease while others, such as the leather sea star, seem to be thriving.

Gaydos said it could be the species’ high volume at the start of the disease that contributed to the die-off. The sunflowers were once so plentiful in the area they were piled on top of one another and covered entire areas.

“That can contribute to stress, it can also contribute to ease of transmission.”

 

 

Terri Theodore, The Canadian Press

Note to readers: This is a corrected story. A previous story misspelled Gaydos.

Just Posted

Deep Cove Elementary School principal Shelley Hardcastle (right) and vice-principal Mary Kaercher help to restock Reay Creek with fish – in this case, coho fry – after a recent bleach spill killed hundreds of fish. (Wolf Depner/News Staff)
North Saanich’s Deep Cove Elementary School helps to restock Sidney’s Reay Creek

Restocking followed bleach spill that killed hundreds of fish in creek

A new report pegs the annual cost of hiring a third party to monitor use of pickleball courts in North Saanich at $12,000. (Black Press Media file photo).
North Saanich could end up hiring third party to monitor pickleball courts

Other options up for consideration include use of cameras and timed locks

Co-creatorsAdrianna Hatton and Malcolm McKenzie stand next to the little free library revealed Sunday at 9710 First St. (Wolf Depner/News Staff)
Literary crowd helps opens little free library in Sidney

Located at 9710 First St., the book sharing box features original art and reclaimed wood

The barred owl is the most likely to be spotted in the south Island. (Ann Nightingale photo)
Barred owls dominate Greater Victoria owl-scape

Western screech owl population decimated, partly due to barred owls

Between June 1 and 7, 168 net unconditional sales were made for properties in the VREB region. (Black Press Media file photo)
Victoria home sales slightly behind last June’s pace

Benchmark value of single-family home in Greater Victoria tops $1 million

At an outdoor drive-in convocation ceremony, Mount Royal University bestows an honorary Doctor of Laws on Blackfoot Elder and residential school survivor Clarence Wolfleg in Calgary on Tuesday, June 8, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
‘You didn’t get the best of me’: Residential school survivor gets honorary doctorate

Clarence Wolfleg receives honorary doctorate from Mount Royal University, the highest honour the school gives out

Two-year-old Ivy McLeod laughs while playing with Lucky the puppy outside their Chilliwack home on Thursday, June 10, 2021. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress)
VIDEO: B.C. family finds ‘perfect’ puppy with limb difference for 2-year-old Ivy

Ivy has special bond with Lucky the puppy who was also born with limb difference

A million-dollar ticket was sold to an individual in Vernon from the Lotto Max draw Friday, June 11, 2021. (Photo courtesy of BCLC)
Lottery ticket worth $1 million sold in Vernon

One lucky individual holds one of 20 tickets worth $1 million from Friday’s Lotto Max draw

“65 years, I’ve carried the stories in my mind and live it every day,” says Jack Kruger. (Athena Bonneau)
‘Maybe this time they will listen’: Survivor shares stories from B.C. residential school

Jack Kruger, living in Syilx territory, wasn’t surprised by news of 215 children’s remains found on the grounds of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School

A logging truck carries its load down the Elaho Valley near in Squamish, B.C. in this file photo. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chuck Stoody
Squamish Nation calls for old-growth logging moratorium in its territory

The nation says 44% of old-growth forests in its 6,900-square kilometre territory are protected while the rest remain at risk

Flowers and cards are left at a makeshift memorial at a monument outside the former Kamloops Indian Residential School to honour the 215 children whose remains are believed to have been discovered buried near the city in Kamloops, B.C., on Monday, May 31, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
‘Pick a Sunday:’ Indigenous leaders ask Catholics to stay home, push for apology

Indigenous leaders are calling on Catholics to stand in solidarity with residential school survivors by not attending church services

“They will never be forgotten, every child matters,” says Sioux Valley Chief Jennifer Bone in a video statement June 1. (Screen grab)
104 ‘potential graves’ detected at site of former residential school in Manitoba

Sioux Valley Dakota Nation working to identify, repatriate students buried near former Brandon residential school

The Queen Victoria statue at the B.C. legislature was splattered with what looks like red paint on Friday. (Nicole Crescenzi/News Staff)
Queen Victoria statue at B.C. legislature vandalized Friday

Statue splattered with red paint by old growth forest proponents

Most Read