The population decline of sunflower sea stars has raised concerns among West Coast scientists, urging an immediate conservation and restoration plan for the said species.
The sunflower sea stars are considered one of the largest globally, measuring up to 3 feet. According to NOAA Fisheries, the species of sunflower sea stars have suffered in massive decline due to disease.
(Photo : by ROBYN BECK/AFP via Getty Images)
At the Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach, California on October 21, 2009
In addition, NOAA explained that the International Union for the Conservation of Nature classified the sunflower sea star as a critically endangered species.
The NOAA report explained that the sea star wasting syndrome outbreak caused the decline of the said species. The syndrome is said to be linked to ocean warming.
On the other hand, a report from the Associated Press (AP) showed that an estimated 5.75 billion sunflower sea stars died from the sea star wasting disease. The disease mostly impacted the sunflower sea star, which has made it one of the species at risk on the West Coast.
AP reported that the outbreak source has not yet been identified, but experts pointed out that human-caused climate change could be associated with the outbreak.
According to the Astorian’s report, the disease decimated about 95% of the sunflower sea star population.
Urgent restoration and conservation
Part of the initiative is to list the sunflower sea stars in the endangered species list. Experts said the massive decline required urgent conservation and restoration of the said species. Listing the said species in the Endangered Species Act could help with more research and funding.
According to a marine scientist, Steven Rumrill explained that the decline could break your heart, seeing species decline rapidly and reach a point of extinction. Rumrill is also from the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, adding that his 40 years of experience had not seen a widespread decline in sunflower sea stars.
AP added that Rumrill helped with a recently published sea star recovery roadmap, helping scientists. The recovery roadmap is with the collaboration of California, Washington and Alaska, the National Marine Fisheries Service and the Nature Conservancy.
On the other hand, Rumrill said that they recognized the impact of humans on the extinction of many species worldwide, which is happening to the sunflower sea star.
NOAA added that the threat to sunflower sea stars could threaten the kelp forest ecosystems. The massive decline of sunflower sea stars could increase the abundance of sea urchins.
Impact on Kelp Forest Environment
Sea urchin could threaten the kelp forests, which provides habitat to important species.
According to the AP report, the sea urchin population could explode, impacting kelp forests in providing food sources on the West Coast.
As a result, the conservation and listing of sunflower sea stars in the Endangered Species could help develop restoration efforts and research to address the decline’s main issue. The removal and extinction of sunflower sea stars could be catastrophic to the kelp forest environment.
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