CURRENT NEWS – Sea Star Wasting Disease in Orange County
Sea stars along the western North American coast, from California to Alaska, have been devastated by a wasting disease. Media coverage of the disease has been a hot topic as of late (see Discovery, Public News Service, Nature).
While the disease epidemic began in summer 2013 in Washington and Alaska and was evident in northern California into fall 2013, southern California, particularly Orange County, appeared to escape the brunt of the outbreak. During summer and fall monitoring conducted by Cal Poly Pomona and CSU Fullerton faculty and students at numerous rocky intertidal sites in OC, the common intertidal Ochre Sea Star (Pisaster ochraceus) was found to be quite common with only a small proportion (0% to 3%) exhibiting infection. However, starting in January and February 2014, the reports and anecdotal evidence of mass die-offs of sea stars began to pile up. Divers and tidepoolers alike began reporting the presence of the disease; sea stars were separating themselves from their appendages, loose arms were washing up on the beach, and bodies were dissolving in place. Subsequent resampling of OC intertidal locations has confirmed the mass die-off of the intertidal sea stars. For example, in the intertidal zone at Shaw’s Cove in Laguna Beach, summer and fall 2013 abundances were well over 400 individuals, yet no stars were found in March 2014. The same patterns have been observed elsewhere in the county where populations have either disappeared or decreased markedly since the fall. Continued monitoring will determine whether these remaining small populations will continue to decline. Furthermore, long-term monitoring will aid in documenting the ecological impacts of the loss of this keystone predator.
Monitoring of the Orange County sites is primarily funded by the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management. Data is available for the coastwide monitoring program at pacificrockyintertidal.org. More specifically, the progress of sea star wasting disease can be found at: http://www.eeb.ucsc.edu/pacificrockyintertidal/data-products/sea-star-wasting/. This website allows the public to submit reports of sea star disease along the coast.