SANTA CRUZ, Calif. - 'Sea Star Wasting Disease' is an all too common occurrence in Monterey Bay starfish.
Karah Ammann, a research ecologist with UCSC, has dedicated her life to studying the starfish, and said she first saw the population drop in 2013. "What we typically see in the field, when we see diseased stars, is we see a star with a single, or multiple, white lesion. If the disease has progressed, we see arms missing and we see a sort of liquid appearance," said Ammann.
While this is a problem along the entire west coast, sea stars from the Monterey Bay were chosen to study why this is happening. A team at the University of Vermont is now looking at the species called 'Pisaster Ochraceus.' Their goal is to figure out why the stars are dying in such a gruesome way.
"Whis may be something that's more complicated than other diseases that we've seen. There may be a single pathogen, or there may be multiple pathogens that are allowed to be opportunistic because of some sort of environmental contamination that makes them more vulnerable," said Melissa Pespeni, Assistant Biology Professor at the University of Vermont.
The University of Vermont said their discovery is only a small piece of the puzzle. Experts at UCSC are continuing to watch the local sea stars closely. "We're looking at what the population is doing in the inner tidal areas. We're also doing field experiments, looking at how the sea stars contribute the whole community and how the removal from the disease is affecting the whole community," said Ammann.
It's on the Santa Cruz coastline that Ammann has seen a 75% decline in 'Pisaster Ochraceus' sea stars, and hopes the cross-country research could help save them before it is too late.