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Apr 16, 2014 9:38 PM by Connie Tran, KSBY News

Sea star disease wipes them from some local beaches

A disease is killing off sea stars, commonly known as starfish on our west coast beaches. Local marine science researchers say that's not good, because they're an intregal part of our ecological system. A marine science researcher from Cal Poly says there is no clear answer right now.In Shell Beach, years ago people would come across tons of sea stars in crevices, but today, none to be found. This water brings peace and beauty to Cameron Clapp's life. "As a surfer, I have a really strong connection with the ocean and so i've heard about the star fish die off and it's been very unfortunate," says Cameron Clapp, a surfer from Santa Maria. Cameron can't even remember the last time he's seen a sea star. He said, "Yeah, they're a lot harder to find. I haven't seen too many lately." Because there is a syndrome spreading in the ocean called the sea star wasting disease. "Stars have been deteriorating away, they've been suffering from symptoms that lead to their eventual death or part of their limbs falling off," says Clapp. Cal Poly research assistant Grant Waltz says six different kinds of species of sea stars have been wasting since last summer, in Shell Beach, Montana De Oro, and around Hazard Canyon. "Well determining how a disease like this affects the community, what are the changes that we can expect in the future? How does this impact longterm ecological trends in the inter and subtidal communities?" says Waltz. Waltz says they're researching all kinds of reasons of how the disease came about. warmer water he says, could be a reason, but says, "there isn't a distinct answer right now.Previous wasting disease episodes have been linked to warm water events around the el ninos in 1982, 83, as well as 96 and 97." Waltz says sea stars are so important to the ecological system because they are natural predators that feed off of organic material that decays at the bottom of the ocean.So far, researchers at Cal Poly haven't been able to pin point if the "sea star wasting" disease is from a specific bacteria or virus. Cal Poly marine science officials say we can all help with the problem, by not touching sea stars if you see them in the ocean, and sending in pictures of injured ones to the website seastarwasting.org.

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