In this newsletter: Sea star wasting disease update, teaching veterinarians about wildlife diseases, what is One Health and why should you care?, derelict fishing gear removal success story, exploring beneath the Salish Sea video now available, seeking donations for the 2014 Wine ‘n’ Sea Auction.
Update January 21, 2016
Scientists from all over the US and Canada who are studying this disease came to share their research and learn from each other.
We still have a lot to learn about this disease, but data presented support: (1) this is an unsual mortality event, (2) the disease hits a wide range of sea star species, and (3) it affects different species of sea stars differently. Species that seem have been hit hard both in the wild and in captivity include the mottled star (Evasterias troschelii; pictured here), sunflower star (Pycnopodia heliantoides), spiny pink star (Pisaster brevispinus) and the ochre sea star (Pisaster ochraceus).
Joe Gaydos notes, “I’m impressed with and inspired by all of the great scientific minds working to unravel this mystery!”
Update November 17 2014
Work is continuing to better understand the other factors involved in this outbreak and how this massive loss of predators will reshape the marine ecosystem.
Understanding emerging threats to the health of our oceans is a key part of SeaDoc’s work, and donations to SeaDoc make it possible.
Read the paper by Ian Hewson, et al.: http://www.seadocsociety.org/?p=2949
Earthfix covered the study, noting that this virus is different from all known viruses infecting marine organisms. (Another little-known fact: a drop of seawater contains about 10 million viruses.)
Smithsonian Magazine also has a good article about the study and what it means.
Update October 2014
The article is well-worth a read, and here’s a video from it:
Update June 2014
Scientists are closer to having an answer to what’s causing the mortality outbreak in sea stars. Drew Harvell of Cornell University and Friday Harbor Labs is working with a team that has traced the cause.
Read the latest article from KUOW’s EarthFix team about the current status of the outbreak. There’s also a terrific video on that page featuring Drew Harvell.
Sea stars in various parts of the Salish Sea are experiencing a mass-mortality event. We’re not sure of the cause, but we’re working on it. (So are many other groups in the area.)
In October we looked for healthy and diseased sea stars during our dives for our new subtidal survey project. (See what else we found on those dives here.) During early November, we returned to two of the REEF monitoring sites from October where we saw the highest density of sea stars to see if sea star wasting disease has shown up since were were there last month. Fortunately we saw numerous sea stars and numerous species of sea stars and they all looked healthy. We will continue dives this weekend to look for more signs of disease.
Photos of diseased sea stars
Seastar expert Neil McDaniel, (www.seastarsofthepacificnorthwest.info) has graciously shared his photos showing the progression of the disease over a short period of a few weeks. This can give you an idea of what you’re looking for. The before-and-after photos are pretty shocking. View the photos at Janna Nichols’ SCUBA photo page.
Report sick and healthy sea stars
If you’re a diver or a beach-walker and you see sea stars (healthy or diseased), report them at the Vancouver Aquarium’s Sea Star Wasting Syndrome web page.
That page at the Vancouver Aquarium’s website also has an overview of the outbreak.
Also see these media articles:
The Vancouver Aquarium made a time-lapse video of a sea star disintegrating. Watch it here: http://youtu.be/mjrp3Eckr-E
Seattle Aquarium veterinarian Lesanna Lahner was interviewed on Science Friday on NPR on December 5, 2014.
The Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission posted a blog entry about how the Puyallup Tribe is tracking sea star wastage in the South Sound.
Scientist Drew Harvell and diver Laura James wrote a blog post for the Nature Conservancy about the outbreak. In it, Harvell, who is one of the scientists doing genetic research on possible disease vectors, makes the case for better funding of scientific investigations of disease in the ocean.
Page updated on December 10, 2014
John Ryan of KUOW reported on the efforts in the United States and Canada to understand a starfish die-off.
“Every population has sick animals,” said SeaDoc Society wildlife veterinarian Joe Gaydos, on a boat off Orcas Island between research dives. “Are we just seeing sick animals because we’re looking for it, or is it an early sign of a large epidemic that may come through and wipe out a lot of animals?”
The timing of this news coincided with SeaDoc’s first year of monitoring subtidal fish and invertebrates at 10 sites in the San Juan Islands. This project, done in conjunction with REEF and Friday Harbor Labs, is a multi-year study to track understudied populations in the Salish Sea. It’s exactly the kind of effort that’s needed if we’re to have the right data to understand mortality events like these.
Gaydos cautions, “Despite the headline, we’re not certain that a mortality event is heading into Washington State. During our 120 dives we saw many more healthy animals than sick ones. We collected samples and they will be tested microscopically and for infectious agents and a parasites.”
Read the complete text or listen to the piece as broadcast: http://kuow.org/post/mass-starfish-die-may-be-headed-washington
Also see this article on King5.com featuring the work of the Seattle Aquarium: Biologists search for cause of sea star deaths.
Joe Gaydos was also interviewed for an article on KVAL in Eugene, OR. http://www.kval.com/outdoors/Whats-causing-sea-stars-to-waste-away–232121291.html
We kicked off our long-term subtidal intelligence gathering effort with 120 survey dives in October 2013.
Here are some beautiful photos of some of the creatures that live under the water in the Salish Sea: dironas, butterfly crabs, sea pens, rockfish, and a whole lot of starfish. (The slideshow can take a while to load…)
September 2015 update: See photos and get info about our 2015 dives.
If you don’t know what’s happening, you can’t learn from it. While most people can see change above the water (such as a forest clear cut), there aren’t many people keeping an eye on the dramatic changes occurring below the surface of the ocean. And without details on what is happening, how can we know when you need to take action to correct negative trends?
In October 2013, SeaDoc kicked off a project using trained citizen scientists to help study changes in subtidal fish and invertebrate populations. This ambitious multi-year intelligence-gathering effort will use recreational SCUBA divers — trained and certified by the Reef Environmental Education Foundation as experts in identifying fish and invertebrates — to get a long-term view of what’s happening at multiple sites in the San Juan Islands.
Every fall, trained citizen scientist SCUBA divers will conduct 100 surveys of fish and invertebrates. The results will be immediately accessible on the national REEF database (check it out at www.REEF.org), which is used by citizens and scientists the world over. In a more robust way, SeaDoc and REEF will be working to scientifically analyze changes occurring at these sites annually. This project is made possible thanks to collaborations with REEF, Friday Harbor Labs, numerous volunteer divers and of course SeaDoc donors, including Jeanne Luce, Steve Alboucq, Loren Ceder, Chuck Curry & Molly Davenport, and one other anonymous donor.
We’ve seen big payoffs for intelligence gathering that’s been done with birds, marine mammals, shoreline habitat, and air and water quality. For example, SeaDoc Postdoctoral Fellow Dr. Nacho Vilchis was able to evaluate decades of change in marine bird populations in the Salish Sea and identify population stressors and solutions for recovery. This was possible only because of excellent long-term monitoring by scientists and citizens on both sides of the border. We anticipate our new study will provide crucial data for future scientific insights that will help us heal the Salish Sea.
Update 10/2/2014: Learn about our 2014 dives.
Photo: Basket Star by Ed Bierman via Flickr Creative Commons.
In this newsletter: Long-term project to monitor fish and invertebrates in subtidal areas in the San Juan Islands. Nominations are open for the Salish Sea Science Prize, given by SeaDoc in conjunction with the Salish Sea Ecosystem Conference. Learn about Science Advisor Wayne Palsson, Joe Gaydos invited to represent SeaDoc on the Wildlife Diversity Council of the Washington Department of Fish & Game. Former board member Nan McKay is now on the board of the Northwest Straits Initiative.
Abalone abundance surveys from the 1970s were repeated 30 yrs later following a period of increased sea surface temperatures along the Pacific coast of the United States. Northern abalone, Haliotis kamtschatkana (Jonas, 1845) once abundant enough to support commercial fishing in Washington and Canada, are now extremely rare in the southern portion of their range in southern and central California. They have also declined 10 fold in northern California in the absence of human fishing pressure. In Washington, northern abalone are in decline and exhibit recruitment failure despite closure of the fishery. Flat abalone, Haliotis walallensis (Stearns, 1899) no longer occur in southern California, and in central California have declined from 32% to 8% of the total number of abalones, Haliotis spp., inside a marine reserve. The distribution of flat abalone appears to have contracted over time such that they are now only common in southern Oregon where they are subject to a new commercial fishery. Given these range reductions, the long-term persistence of flat abalone and northern abalone (locally) is a concern in light of threats from ocean warming, sea otter predation, and the flat abalone fishery in Oregon. The likelihood of future ocean warming poses challenges for abalone restoration, suggesting that improved monitoring and protection will be critical, especially in the northern portions of their distributions.
- Northern abalone (Haliotis kamtschatkana kamtschatkana) is a federally listed species of concern.
- The status of northern abalone and the characteristics of the habitats they associate with were determined showing that northern abalone have declined dramatically in Washington State with present day abundances <10% of those found in 1979.
- Northern abalone inhabited kelp beds (Nereocystis luetkeana), more than red sea urchin beds (Strongylocentrotus franciscanus) (X2 = 16, d.f. = 1, P < 0.01) or habitats with both kelp and sea urchins (X2 = 13.2, d.f. = 1, P < 0.01). Sites with Nereocystis kelp canopy had twice the percentage cover of encrusting coralline algae compared with sea urchin sites.
- No juvenile abalone (<75 mm) were found in any of the habitat types raising concerns about recruitment failure.
- Abalone co-occurred with other molluscs including limpets and scallops. Kelp holdfast microhabitats had significantly higher species richness (t = 2.2, d.f. = 6, P < 0.05), twice the effective number of species and 5x more individuals than sea urchin spine microhabitats.
- In laboratory choice experiments, juvenile abalone (20 mm) preferred coralline rocks to kelp holdfasts or sea urchin spine canopy. The small snail, Amphissa spp. (5–15 mm) was more abundant inside kelp holdfasts than under sea urchins or in rock cobble, suggesting this may be an important microhabitat.
- It is recommended that kelp beds with abundant coralline substrate be used for restoration including stocking juveniles and adult aggregations as this biogenic habitat may enhance northern abalone restoration actions.
Monitoring of species abundance, composition and distribution is essential for management and conservation of regional marine fish and invertebrate populations. The Reef Environmental Education Foundation’s Fish Survey Project promotes resource stewardship and helps support more rigorous scientific monitoring by enabling recreational SCUBA divers to survey for fish and invertebrate presence and abundance while diving. As volunteer survey effort increases, so does the value of these data. To solicit ideas for increasing voluntary survey efforts in the region we queried certified SCUBA divers to determine what motivated and prevented people from conducting Fish Survey Project surveys. We received 395 completed questionnaires. An interest in becoming more familiar with local species was cited as the number one reason for participation by people who had previously conducted fish and invertebrate surveys as well as for people who had never performed them but were interested. People who had never performed a SCUBA survey and were not interested in doing so indicated that their lack of confidence in identifying fish and invertebrates was the number one reason, but most indicated that free fish and invertebrate identification classes would change their mind. These data suggest that a focused advertising campaign and free fish and invertebrate identification classes are probably the best ways to solicit more recreational SCUBA divers to perform fish and invertebrate surveys in the Puget Sound Georgia Basin region.