Newly released underwater footage from the Pacific Northwest reveals the true extent of the melting sea star epidemic currently spreading along the west coast of North America.
Following the discovery of melting Sunflower sea stars off the coast of California, Washington state and Canada, videographer and underwater explorer Laura James uncovered well over 100 dead sea stars washed up on the beach in West Seattle’s Brace Point area earlier this month. After diving into the water to investigate, James reveals to Storyleak just how devastating the die-off has become.
“I’d heard that the sea stars were dying en mass but this was beyond my imagination,” James said. “It was like carnage or a mass grave. Dead and dying sea stars, body on top of body.”
James’ footage, which begins by showing unaffected sea starts in the same area a year prior, reveals that multiple sea star species have begun to literally disintegrate, despite earlier reports of only one species being affected.
“The Sunflower sea stars were the first to die, and it happened very fast. The Ochre and Mottled sea stars are now dying and these are the bodies you see piling up,” James said.
All stages of the melting process can be seen throughout the footage, beginning with a strange loss of coordination and inability to grasp onto objects, before the insides and limbs begin to fall apart, adding to the numerous white piles of melted sea star remains.
“As we were swimming along we also noted torn off legs from Sunflower stars strewn about, like the starfish had just been cruising along and one leg after another stopped working,” James said.
Controlled experiments in the late 1960s, which removed sea stars from Washington state’s Mukkaw Bay, produced a dramatic decrease in species diversity as hypothesized. Given the sea stars’ now evident role as a keystone species linked to maintaining ecological balance, many worry the die-off could begin the chain reaction, massively devastating the biodiversity of the entire west coast.
“The key here is citizen scientists helping to do the wide spread documentation and an involved public that can make its voice heard, push for answers, and not let this just become yesterdays news,” James said.
Although the cause has yet to be determined, speculations now range from a simple disease or parasite to the continued dumping of hundreds of tons of highly radioactive water into the ocean from Japan’s crippled Fukushima nuclear plant.
Unexplained sicknesses and death from species all across the west coast since the beginning of Japan’s 2011 nuclear disaster have increased the public’s fear that the situation’s true danger is being kept under wraps.
As far back as early 2012, nuclear radiation from the Fukushima power plant was being detected in bluefin tuna off California’s coast. Months earlier, cesium-137 was being found in almost all Japanese seafood being sold in Canada, with 100 percent of seaweed, carp, monkfish and shark showing detectable levels. Even with Japanese scientists finding high cesium levels in plankton all across the Pacific, the FDA has continued to claim that there is no need to test any seafood.
August of this year, Canadian biologists near Vancouver Island discovered herring bleeding out of their eyes and gill, while members of Canada’s aboriginal community began simultaneously reporting historically low Skeena River sockeye salmon returns.
“We hope to get out and document more sites… so we can also document the changes in biodiversity that are likely to occur,” James said in closing.
As the melting sea star phenomenon continues its downward trend, James plans to continue her research in hopes that others will join.