Mass Mortality Event
Sea stars are one of the most iconic animals on the coast of British Columbia. While you may not think of them as majestic, it’s difficult to imagine a rocky shore without them. They are one of the most accessible organisms we encounter in the wild: we draw them as kids, touch them in tide pools, and see them on the beach. Sea stars are more abundant and diverse in our waters than anywhere else in the world.
The coast of British Columbia is currently experiencing a sea star mass mortality event, coined Sea Star Wasting Syndrome. Recently, sea stars have appeared to be over-abundant throughout the Strait of Georgia, but divers began noticing sick and dying stars in early September 2013. The phenomenon seems to be affecting a number of species including purple stars (Pisaster ochraceus), pink stars (Pisaster brevispinus), mottled stars (Evasterias toschelii) and several others. However, the sunflower star, Pycnopodia helianthoides, appears to be the hardest hit species, with dense aggregations disappearing in a matter of weeks. The wasting syndrome may be a pathogen that affects several species in the same way, or there may be multiple agents at play. The underlying causes of the epidemic are not known. But through collaborations with veterinarians, universities, other researchers, and the public, we are working to understand the problem.