“Shocking” Undersea Plague Is Obliterating Key Ocean Species

Sea star wasting disease is unleashing an underwater apocalypse from Mexico to Alaska.

undersea plague
A sunflower sea star is among the largest sea stars in the world and has a maximum arm span of one meter. This, along with other sea star species are being wiped out by a deadly disease. (Photo by: Universal History Archive/UIG via Getty Images)
UIG via Getty Images

Sea star wasting disease, an undersea plague, is obliterating more than 20 key ocean species of sea stars from Mexico to Alaska.

Now, a new study by Joe Gaydos of the University of California reveals the deadly sickness has spread to the sunflower star, Science Mag reports.

“This is shocking,” said UC-Santa Cruz’s Mark Carr, a marine ecologist who was not involved in the study, said. “This is not just a population reduction, this is virtually the loss of a key species over thousands of miles. We’ve never seen anything like this before.”

Once infected, the sea star’s limbs fall off and their body disintegrates into decaying flesh.

Scientists still aren’t sure which pathogen is responsible for the disease is, but suspect it is a virus. After intensive survey and bottom-trawling expeditions, the sea stars they expected to find hiding out deep below the surface were never found.

This undersea plague could be linked to climate change and a warming ocean. “Many of these outbreaks are heat sensitive. In the lab, sea stars got sick sooner and died faster in warmer water,” Harvell says. “A warming ocean could increase the impact of infectious diseases like this one.”

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