Mysterious disease causing starfish to dissolve into goo

By Elise Gabriele,

Marine biologist are perplexed by the cause of a disease that is dissolving and millions of starfish into goo, across the east and west coasts.

Known as sea star wasting syndrome, the disease begins as a small lesion on the starfish and escalates to the loss of limbs and ultimately the disintegration and inevitable death of the sea creature, according to Live Science.

Fox News stated that the syndrome was first reported by Olympic National Park researchers in June 2013 along the coast of Washington.

The definitive cause of this phenomena is unknown. Researchers struggle to determine if the disease is linked to a bacterial infection, a virus or a combination causes worsened by environmental conditions such as, water temperature and salt content, Fox said.

Scientists have tracked the disease to be found as far as British Columbia, Canada, along the coast of California and more recently on the east coast along the coast from Maine to New Jersey.

Although the disease has not been found to have spread to other marine life, starfish species like the ochre sea star and sunflower sea star are considered keystone species. This signifies that without them, the structure of their ecosystem collapses.

Maclean’s stated that this is not the first time starfish have suffered from sea star wasting syndrome. Two other incidents happened between 1983-84 and 1997-98, which was during El Nino years-- meaning the ocean was warmer than normal.

However, this incident has been significantly worse than the previous years and this time the wasting incidents are not associated with El Nino. Scientists believe the deaths of the starfish are a two step process. First the bacteria or virus weakens the starfish’s immune system allowing a secondary infection to cause the wasting syndrome, Pete Raimondi, University of California at Santa Cruz, told Maclean’s.

Image via Twitter from Live Science

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