Five years ago, a sixth grade class in landlocked Arkansas heard about the massive extinction of starfish on the west coast and was forced to help.
11- and 12-year-old children elected a chairman to lead the fundraising. They cut out paper starfish – more formally known as starfish – and put them up for adoption for a donation of $ 1. They gave them names and characteristics, such as Cherry Bombs, which "loves to hang out on their phone," "is fond of leggings" and "really smart, but not a nerd." They sold T-shirts with the inscription: “Save the starfish”.
“There is no ocean near us,” retired teacher Vika Bailey told them. "The students knew that they would never go to the coast, they probably would never see this type of starfish, but they were so passionate about what was happening."
When Drew Harwell, a professor of marine ecology and a researcher at Cornell University, received about $ 400, which Carl Stewart High School in Conway collected, she knew that money had to go for something important.
“I almost cried, I was so touched. Therefore, I compared this with my own $ 400, and then one of our donors made a large amount of money, and this is mainly funding that allowed us to conduct an initial survey, ”said Harwell.
Fast forward to the future: Harwell and her co-authors release their research inspired by the children's initial money. Cornell and the University of California at Davis publish their work in the journal Science Advances.
The campaign did not exactly save the starfish. The conclusions are terrible. But researchers now know much more about the scale of extinction after analyzing data from trained recreational and professional divers and deep-sea trawls.
The starfish starvation disease has affected more than 20 species from Mexico to Alaska. Some species resisted the disease better, while others evolved to survive.
During the outbreak, the video showed that the beaches were littered with dead starfish, and the internal organs are splashed through the damage, Harwell recalls.
"It [one of] the most extensive epidemic of wildlife diseases[s] we have ever recorded, because there are so many species in such a huge geographical area, ”said Harwell.
The effect was especially bad for a sunflower star, a creature 3-4 feet wide, which can have up to two dozen hands. The sunflower star “crawls across the seabed like a robotic vacuum cleaner, chewing everything in its path,” as Cornell’s media team described.
Sunflower starfish, which only live on the west coast of North America, have now virtually disappeared from the waters of California, Oregon and Washington.
Previous studies have shown that at higher temperatures associated with climate change, debilitating disease has a higher risk of infection and kills sea stars faster. A new study shows that outbreaks of the virus among sea stars of sunflower coincided with abnormally warm waters.
And the extinction of species has a cascading effect on the ecosystem.
Sunflower starfish once controlled the population of sea urchins, but now the number of boys is growing, leading to barren places where they devour algae habitats to the pink sea bottom beneath them.
According to Harwell, while this species is endangered in the bottom 48, they feel a little better in British Columbia and in some places in Alaska. Researchers need to understand whether the starfish of a sunflower can be repatriated if the disease leaves the west coast.
“It is very important that something be done,” said Harwell. “This is not the problem we faced earlier, so I don’t have an immediate proposal for what we will do. I think we definitely need to convene a group of scientists and really talk about the problem and which issues are of the highest priority. ”