Our Life in the Pacific Northwest

Sea Star Wasting Disease

Pacific Coast

Anyone who knows me knows that I have always been fascinated by low tides and tide pools. For years I  dragged my kids and whoever would go with me to low tide, especially the extreme low tides that occur 3 or 4 times a year. I’ve taken hundreds of photos of starfish in the last  7 years and the sun starfish has always been my favorite. I have a particular location in Edmonds that I go to where there has always been tons and tons of starfish during extreme low tides. For more info on that spot click here. A photo I had taken at this particular beach of a crawling sun starfish won an honorable mention in the Seattle Times Photos of the year.  (Pictured below)

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Year after year every extreme low tide met my expectations as to the amount of sea life I was able to view and capture with my camera, so when I heard about the starfish epidemic that was affecting the Pacific Coast I was worried about what I would see the next time I went to my special beach. I first have to explain what it looks like during at least a -3 low tide. There’s an abandoned pier at this beach and underneath are pilings covered in sea life. Starfish, sun starfish (sometimes called sunflower stars), anemones, limpets, sea urchins and so many more. You have to watch where you are walking at all times because of all the sea creatures laying about. Sun Starfish crawl around the sand too creating the coolest patterns.
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When I went there this year I was immediately aware that the starfish population had decreased immensely.  Imagine rows and rows of pilings covered in starfish and at least a dozen sun starfish crawling around while leaving remnants of their meals behind them. This time the pilings had maybe one or two ochre starfish on a piling here and there and only 1 baby sun starfish! The other sea creatures were plentiful and I noticed no change. It was quite a depressing day.

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I’ve read that they have found the cause of their demise. Sea Star Wasting Disease they call it and the probable cause is the Densovirus. The virus causes the starfish to disintegrate. It starts with lesions on the body, their legs curl up and fall away and then the animal disintegrates on the ocean floor. Such an appalling way to die for such an incredible species. This epidemic is not only affecting the Puget Sound, it is occurring on the Pacific Coast from Alaska to Mexico. Sea Stars are a keystone species so if this continues scientists expect that changes will occur with other sea creatures since sea stars control the population of other species in the ecosystem.

low tide 027To me this is more than just a scientific anomaly. As corny as it sounds, I feel a personal loss since I always looked forward to low tide all year. It was “my thing” and now the majority of them are gone. I do feel grateful that I was able to photograph so many of them and have folders and folders of the images to prove their existence. I have a very diverse collection of photos. The photo above was my “Strong Starfish” since he is holding up his friends. 🙂

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If you are interested in any of my starfish photographs please leave a comment or email me at pnw511@gmail.com

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