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Why This Matters: Between rising temperatures, overfishing, ocean acidification, among other harms, people have thrown the U.S. West Coast marine ecosystem off the balance. Without the sea star in California, purple urchin populations have boomed. The urchins gobble up kelp forests, which, in turn, harms other marine wildlife and fishing communities. Few wild sea star communities remain. “I don’t see that we’ve got any other options,” Laura Rogers-Bennett, a marine scientist with the University of California, Davis, and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, told Bloomberg. “[The sea stars are] not capable of bouncing back on their own. We have to do something.”
What Comes Next?
Last week, the University of Washington lab breeding the endangered sea stars celebrated as dozens of the poppy seed-sized star babies metamorphosed from floating larvae to mini stars, the first step toward adulthood. The research team initially collected wild sea stars from one of the last known colonies in the Salish Sea. It remains to be seen if their children will return to the open ocean. The captive breeding program is still exploring if it’s advisable to release the captively grown stars into the wild.
“What we’re attempting to do here is to raise a new generation of sea stars in the lab,” Jason Hodin, a research scientist at Friday Harbor Labs who is leading the captive rearing efforts for the UW, said in a press release. “We’re hoping that our efforts can help in the process of recovery of the sunflower sea star and, ultimately, recovery of the health of ecosystems like the kelp forests that are under threat right now.”
Kelp is Key
The kelp forests that sunflower sea stars call home are on the brink: the forests in Northern California have declined as much as 95% since 2013, in no small part because of the marine heatwave that killed off the sea stars and led to the urchin overtake. In addition to their role in providing shelter, habitat, and food to marine life, kelp is also great at sequestering carbon — which some companies have already latched onto for the opportunity to shift carbon out of the atmosphere and to the ocean floor.
By Amy Lupica, ODP Daily Editor An abandoned oil tanker off the coast of Yemen is deteriorating rapidly, and experts say that a hull breach could have far-reaching environmental impacts and threaten millions of people’s access to food and water supplies. The FSO SAFER tanker holds 1.1 million barrels of oil — more than four […]
Last weekend, an estimated 144,000 gallons of heavy crude oil leaked from an underwater pipeline in California, making for one of the largest spills in recent state history. While federal regulators have enacted protections for some federal lands and waters, they’re still a long way from reaching President Biden’s 30×30 goal. But the longer they […]
By Natasha Lasky, ODP Staff Writer More information has come to light about the estimated 144,000 gallons of oil that spilled off the coast of Huntington Beach, California. Federal transportation investigators say the likely cause of the spill was a ship’s anchor, which caught and dragged an almost mile-long section of the pipe across the […]
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