On my walks along the shore on dark January days, one bright spot has always been seeing an orange sea star (or starfish) down on the beach at the water’s edge. They made my day!
And then one day they were gone.
I wondered if it was connected to the warming ocean water, but a fellow walker reassured me, “No, no–it’s just a disease. I have a friend on Hood Canal who knows about them. He says they’ll be back once the disease passes!”
But they have not come back in the four to five years since this “wasting disease” was first identified. And they’ll likely never be back this time, say scientists. Warmer ocean waters make animals more vulnerable to disease. This particular disease has hit some 20 sea star species.
The situation is recognized as being the largest observed die-off of an ocean animal. Not all the species are gone yet, but the disease continues, especially along West Coast bays where the waters have warmed significantly. Local ecologists describe this “wasting disease” as a “horror show,” where the animals literally melt into a goo, falling apart.
I remember my children exploring tide pools when they were barely old enough to walk. Some of the first animals they encountered there were sea stars–bright splashes of orange, dark red, or purple in that magical star shape.
They knew these animals were tidal pool superheroes. They could lose an arm and re-grow a new one! Those gazillion tube feet on their undersides made it possible for them to grab and hold onto anything.
I have shed tears over the lost sea stars–not only for the children who won’t see them, but for myself.
One of my first blog posts I wrote was about the grief I felt over the disappearing glaciers. I had been in a second hand book store when I spotted an older book of large photographs of glaciers and I found myself weeping as I remembered standing on one of those glaciers. I never imagined a day when they would not exist.
Depending on fossil fuels for so much in our lives is coming at a high, high price.
It’s not an honor to be a witness to the “largest observed die-off of an ocean animal.” It’s a profound grief.