by: J. D. Heyes
What is going on in the global environment that is causing starfish to consume themselves? Could it be that contaminants such as heavy metals, pesticide chemicals, radiation and other pollution are reaching levels significant enough to affect entire species?
As reported by Yahoo Travel and the UK Daily Mail, marine biologists are alarmed by an epidemic of colorful starfish essentially committing suicide along the Pacific coast of North America.
Dubbed “the Wasting,” officials say that the phenomenon has been playing out over at least the past two years. Scientists have discovered that starfish all along the Pacific coast from Mexico to Alaska are devouring themselves.
Yahoo Travel noted that the story began to gain some national attention a couple of years ago, but now scientists are resolved to find out what is going on. Recently, a VICE report stated that a virus was identified within many of the species that are dying. However, the virus has been present for about seven decades, so its discovery in this case has led to more questions than answers.
“There’s some trigger, probably an environmental trigger,” Rebecca Johnson, a Citizen Science Research Coordinator at the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco, told Yahoo Travel.
Other species also affected
As researchers and scientists attempt to piece together what is going on, they say there is a way that beach visitors and tourists up and down the West Coast can help. They say that anyone who encounters a starfish along the coast should take a picture of it and post it to iNaturalist, an app that allows people to upload photos and information for researchers to put into a database so they can track the problem.
Johnson, who is a research associate at the academy’s Department of Invertebrate Zoology & Geology, says that nearly 2,000 pictures and observations have been uploaded into the app tracking the starfish, which are known in scientific circles as sea stars.
“Anybody who sees something, any observation of nature could be important,” Johnson said. “It’s kind of like Facebook for nature.”
“Everyday people, amateur observations are really important,” she added.
Ordinarily, starfish regenerate their limbs, but this epidemic is different. As VICE noted:
It is not uncommon for many species of sea stars to shed their arms in times of stress. When a curious child picks up a star out of a tide pool by one of its limbs, for instance, the star may jettison that arm in an effort to escape and regenerate it later.
But the sea stars “weren’t merely shedding their arms,” the site reported further. “They were tearing them off. They were tearing them off the way a man, lacking access to a sharp tool, might tear off one of his own arms: By using one arm to wrench the other out of its socket.”
“It will take a lot of time”
Melissa Miner, a marine researcher at the University of California at Santa Cruz, told Yahoo Travel that some recovery within the species is occurring, but there is a long way to go.
“In some areas it seems that holds true,” she said. “In other places it doesn’t seems to hold true.”
Miner and her fellow researchers and students at UCSC have been looking for what is causing the sea star self-destruction for more than two years. They have examined a host of angles including environmental factors, changes in water temperature, and just about every other aspect they could imagine. “There was nothing on that broad scale that really popped out,” she said.
“At this point we’re just kind of watching to see whether recovery occurs,” she added. “We’re kind of in a wait and see what happens. I don’t think anyone is talking about extinction at this point.”
“It will take a lot of time.”
Other species along the West Coast are also experiencing problems. As Collapse.news reported recently, a number of baby seals have been dying, “adding further evidence that marine life has been contaminated by radiation from the Fukushima disaster.”
Source natural news