The disappearance of starfish in North America threatens the entire marine ecosystem

The disappearance of starfish in North America threatens the entire marine ecosystem

The sea star, the second largest of all starfish, can measure almost a meter in length and reach 5.8 kilograms. The adults show many colours, have up to twenty-four arms, and more than fifteen thousand pods, or ampulacral feet, which allow them to circulate on the sea floor. Agile and talented predators, starfish swallow their prey and spit out shells or other indigestible parts. These are mainly sea urchins or bivalves (Bivalvia), such as mussels.

However, sea suns are the victim of a mass extinction that began in 2013. It affects twenty known species of starfish that are endemic to the west coast of North America. Suddenly, starfish from Alaska to Mexico appeared as pests, developed a sticky substance, and died within days.

The sea suns were particularly affected. A study showed Up to 100% reduction in its 3200 km range. The culprit: starfish wasting syndrome, this condition remains poorly understood. For example, scientists do not know whether it is transmitted due to high water temperature or if it is a syndrome caused by stress, which itself is caused by such high temperatures.

To counteract this disaster, Scientific Director Dr. Houdin and his team at Friday Harbor Laboratories begin the captive breeding of this endangered marine sun. The feasibility of the project depends on the good health of this starfish, in fact, many other captive starfish populations have already succumbed to wasting syndrome.

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