A cadre of university researchers are blaming global warming for crumbling populations of sea stars and lobsters in both the Pacific and Atlantic oceans. In a flurry of reports published this week, scientists say that warming ocean waters are causing several species of sea stars to succumb to disease, which they believe is responsible for eradicating some of the sea creatures from entire regions of the ocean. The wasting disease causes sea stars’ bodies to slowly liquefy, while its effects on lobsters are just as deadly.
The sunflower sea star has disappeared from its home in the Pacific Northwest, while another species, the ochre sea star, appears to be next in line. Morgan E. Eisenlord, an evolutionary biologist at Cornell University, led a study of 16 individual sites off the coast of Washington state, and lab experiments have confirmed that it is the rising water temperatures which plague the sea creatures. It’s long been known that global ocean temperatures are rising, and combined with the reality that 30 percent of the carbon released into the atmosphere winds up in the ocean, the outlook is grim for vulnerable sea stars.
Separate studies have found that lobsters are afflicted by similar diseases, which creeps under their shells and causes their armor to deteriorate. In lobsters, the disease is caused by bacteria, which reproduce at a much faster rate in warmer water. The syndrome was first observed in the 1990s off the coast of New England, and has spread substantially in recent years, coinciding with spikes in ocean temps.
Marine life is often thought of in the scientific community as something of a canary in the coal mine, so researchers are looking for ways to slow the effects of the devastating diseases. Curbing pollution in high-traffic areas of the waterways is a relatively simple first step that could make a big difference, especially in the Northeast.
Via Washington Post