4 Reasons Why Starfish Need Protection Now

Sea stars, or starfish, are famous for their healing powers (they can regrow their own amputated limbs!) and their central disc. Today, they’re at the center of “the largest wildlife die-off ever recorded” — some populations have disappeared by 95 percent — and scientists are racing to save them.

It’s a Starfish Catastrophe

American scientists recently met in Seattle, reports King 5 News, to discuss this truly catastrophic event where millions of sea stars have died. We should all be concerned about this historic die-off. Sea stars do more than just decorate our oceans. They are keystone predators that keep our ecosystem healthy. Oregon State University unpacks their ecological importance:

In particular, they attack mussels and keep their populations under control. Absent enough sea stars, mussel populations can explode, covering up algae and other small invertebrates. Some affected sea stars also eat sea urchins.

While the scientists presented their research in Seattle, they also discussed if it was time to seek federal protection for sea stars as endangered. And the opinions were mixed. On the one hand, federal protection would mean more funding. On the other hand, federal protection would also mean more “red tape.”

Why Sea Stars Should Be Federally Protected

I’d argue that this historic catastrophe warrants federal protection for four main reasons:

1. Extinction: Some populations of starfish are already dangerously close to extinction. For instance, the purple ochre sea stars in Oregon were heading towards localized extinction. Should “red tape” really take precedence over extinction?

2. Sea Star Wasting Disease: This disease is killing most starfish — including the ones in Oregon — and it’s brutal. The disease starts with lesions that are followed by body fragmentation. The sea stars ultimately disintegrate so bad that their arms become goo. Unfortunately, scientists don’t fully grasp the disease, but there have been some advancements.

As King 5 News reports, it is “a virus that’s likely in the same family as the Parvovirus” (yes, the same Parvo that can affect dogs) and that the reproductive systems of infected sea stars become inflamed. Ian Hewson describes the sea star’s plight as: “No pathogen has ever wiped out its host population without being pushed significantly by some other environmental factor…This is the single largest, most-geographically widespread marine disease that’s ever been recorded.” While this is the worst recorded outbreak, it’s not the first. There have been three major waves of the disease: the 1972 plague, the 1978 plague and the 2013 plague.

3. Warmer Temperatures: It’s no secret that our planet is warming up, and it’s progressively getting hotter every year. Unfortunately, there’s very compelling evidence to support that more starfish die in warmer temperatures. Drew Harvell, a biologist at Cornell University, explains the link this way: “There are components that certainly track with temperature… We think the magnitude in our waters is due to temperature. We know that under warmer conditions, they die faster.”

4. Changes in Predator-Prey Dynamic: And when more starfish die, it can change the entire dynamic of the ecosystem. In 2015, National Geographic explained that this massive die-off is “reverberating along the California coast, altering the prey and predators relationships of urchins, sea otters, kelp and even human anglers.” The response of the urchins is especially problematic for two reasons: 1) the urchins are wasting away too or 2) they’re coming out of hiding. And if there’s more urchins, they “can overgraze kelp and sea grass beds, reducing habitat for other fish that use such areas for food and refuge,” says Oregon State University.

Take Action!

Are we just going to let sea stars disintegrate right before our eyes in the “the largest wildlife die-off ever recorded?” Sign and share this petition demanding that sea stars receive federal protection now. There are ways to get around “red tape,” but there’s no getting around extinction.

Photo Credit: Steven Bedard

95 comments

Sue H
Sue H3 days ago

We need to do better!

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Siyus Copetallus
Siyus Copetallus2 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

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Patricia Harris
John Taylor2 years ago

To all you dumb assess out there, who like to kill/exploit animals, and destroy/pollute their natural habitat: Real men save/help/protect the animals and the environment!!!! Real men do NOT destroy/kill/poison/exploit them to point where there won't be any left in this world!!!! I really want these low lives who call themselves men to know this as a simple fact!!!! Only then will they stop the destruction to the planet, and all it's natural treasures... unless they want to be viewed as the most stupidest of all humanity, while real humans are supposed to be very intelligent!!!!

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Cat Tkach
Cat Tkach2 years ago

HELP THEM!!!

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Cynthia Brickner
Cindy Brickner2 years ago

How can the warming of our Earth and its devastating effects continue to be disbelieved, particularly by Republicans in the U.S. Congress, when there is ever mounting scientific proof that climate change is life threatening to all those which inhabit this planet??!!! And considering the current ecological and environmental crisis, why can't the path to protection under the Endangered Species Act be made smoother? Star fish and so many others do not have time for 'red tape!' The situation is URGENT.

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Toni W.
Toni W2 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

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Toni W.
Toni W2 years ago

Save the Starfish - they are so beautiful. Petition signed.

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Dt Nc
Dt Nc2 years ago

Danke

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Dt Nc
Dt Nc2 years ago

Save the starfish

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Mari 's
Mari 's2 years ago

They are so beautiful!

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