STAR FISH WASTE DISEASE
You may recall that early in 2014 I went down into the low tide reef areas of both Aliso Beach and Crescent Bay and found that the health of star fish appeared to be good. There were beds of them piled on top of each other with vibrant orange and purplish brown colors. To the naked eye, the population looked to be thriving. In fact, I was shocked to see that many of them. Reports of this disease in the media were so damning for the local populations of one of my childhoods favorite marine creatures that I fully expected there to be compelling evidence in January that the disease had wiped them out. Leaving the tide pools that day, I was very happy when with my own two eyes, I could verify that the star fish were alive and well. There were no lesions, missing limbs or signs of wasting away. Two halves of any one sea star I saw had not split and walked the opposite directions from each other. There was no pile of goo left behind as the waste left behind a sea star with the disease having nearly run its course.
Sometime after January when I documented what appeared to be the good health of star fish in these Laguna area tide pools, the disease swept down the coast and had wiped them out. Interesting to me was that the reports of their demise in Laguna Beach were premature. While the stories of star fish waste disease on the West Coast were numerous at that point, what I could see myself was a complete lack of evidence of the disease being there. To say that I was devastated to learn of their demise in my favorite part of the Southern California Coast would be a huge understatement. I found myself in disbelief and disheartened. I took my eyes off those tide pools, and while there was nothing I could have done, the star fish population in Laguna was wiped out around March of 2014. When this happened the stories and media sensationalism had slowed to a trickle. The reports were early, but the devastation of the sea star population was very real. They were gone!
I can’t tell you how saddened I was. Listening to the commentary of ocean loving friends, I was told that it takes as much as a decade for populations to get back to where they were. That is a long, long time. Caring about the ocean and the creatures in it, I am left with questions. Was this of human doing? What did we do to cause it? What could we do to reduce the amount of time for them to come back? How would we avoid this tragedy in the future? I don’t have any answers for this but will be digging into this topic once again for my own good and with the intention of sharing what I learn for the great many people out there that are interested in the subject and care about the ocean.