climate change

Ocean Outbreak: Confronting the Rising Tide of Marine Disease (Book Review)

Ask any ocean lover to name the biggest threats to ocean conservation and you’ll get a list so long it will make you uncomfortable: derelict fishing gear, increasing underwater noise, invasive species, ocean acidification, overharvest, plastics, toxins, warming water, and so on.

What you probably won’t hear is the word disease—not because the agents of disease are microscopic and out of sight, but because we know so little about how they affect the marine environment. Most people have never thought of parasites and pathogens as agents of change or important ocean stressors.

Falling Stars: Once-Abundant Sea Stars Imperiled by Disease Along West Coast

Falling Stars: Once-Abundant Sea Stars Imperiled by Disease Along West Coast

The combination of ocean warming and an infectious wasting disease has devastated populations of large sunflower sea stars once abundant along the West Coast of North America in just a few years, according to a study co-led by the University of California, Davis, and Cornell University published Jan. 30 in the journal Science Advances.

“In California, Washington and parts of British Columbia, sunflower sea stars keep urchins under control,” said Joseph Gaydos, senior author on the paper and director of UC Davis’ SeaDoc Society program. “Without sunflower stars, urchin populations expand and threaten kelp forests and biodiversity. This cascading effect has a really big impact.”