Mystery sea star disease appears to be spreading


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A rather nasty disease that causes sea stars to disintegrate is showing no signs of going away.

The disease, which turns the bodies of the sea stars to goo, was first noted by divers in September at a popular dive spot in West Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada and staff at Vancouver Aquarium were alerted.

Dead sea stars have since turned up along the coast from Alaska down to Southern California and may be affecting the sea star population as far south as Mexico, though data from that area hasn't been collected yet.
Originally the disease was hitting mainly Sunflower sea stars (Pycnopodia helianthoides) but other species such as Purple stars (Pisaster ochraceus), pink stars (P. brevispinus), Mottled stars (Evasterias toschelii) and several others are also being affected.

Some experts fear that if too many sea stars die off, the population of mussels on which they feed may go unchecked and if they proliferate they could ruin areas of kelp forests that hide small fish from predators and help protect coastal areas from sea surge and storm flooding.

At the University of California, Santa Cruz, the Pacific Rocky Intertidal Monitoring Program is tracking the disease through an interactive map.

The underlying causes of the disease are not known.

Vancouver Aquarium is asking divers in the area who may have seen signs of the disease to help by uploading their observations to its website.

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