SEA STAR WASTE DISEASE
Is Sea Star Waste Disease In Laguna Beach? According to experts, it is. There have been reports that not only is there evidence of the disease along the Pacific Coastline from British Columbia to Mexico, but also independently on the East Coast. Some were quick to throw out a causal link between Fukushima Radiation and these events, and while I appreciate the conspiracy theory mind and mistrust of reports, star fish waste disease is not a new occurrence in Southern California. Previous events of star fish waste disease came after warm water events along the Southern California Coastline in El Nino Years. 2013 had an odd occurrence of warm water in May of this year that may have been a catalyst in this new event of the disease. In the surf community, we would call the ability to wear trunks in local waters in May a warm water event.
Recently I asked a friend of mine to go down and take pictures of the star fish in the tide pools for me. I am sure that the business of being a teenager got in the way of the promise to do that. Our recent flat spell gave me an opportunity to go down to the tide pools and see if I could find evidence of this waste disease. Crescent Bay in Laguna Beach has a large inter-tidal reef and tide pool area that alternates between a state of being underwater at higher tides and exposed and drying during lower tides. It has a large bed of mussels which is a favorite food source of our star fish friend here in Southern California. As with all animals it seems, when the prey is in large supply, predators thrive. I have always marveled at how many star fish were visible at low tide at Crescent Bay. They literally pile on top of each other to get at those shelled, musseley morsels that line the tide pool areas.
The reports about the sea star waste disease are pretty vivid and disheartening. There is talk of populations being wiped out. Descriptions include sea stars turning into goo and two halves of a star fish separating with each half going in different directions. What? I was thinking that based on these reports I would see some dramatic evidence of the disease as Laguna Beach is a part of the large stretch of coastline said to be affected by this disease. I was eager to check this out because exploring the tide pools in Laguna Beach and appreciating marine life like the star fish dates back to my childhood. I would be genuinely upset if I found sea stars suffering under this debilitating disease and would be equally disappointed that these types of events are in many ways tied to our disrespect of the environment.
What I know from reading about this disease is that it has been linked to bacteria in California that seem to attack the star fish after a warm water event. As I have learned, it begins with lesions that begin a degradation process that takes as little time as two days to cause serious deformity, wasting away and death. Some have been willing to let the mind wander and are loosely throwing out there that Fukushima Radiation is to blame. The evidence seems to suggest otherwise but you never know. A recent event on the East Coast with sea star waste disease was said to have been caused by a virus and not bacteria. Attempts to link events together with two different causes should give us pause and encourage us to isolate events and discover the real truth independently of each other. By the way, why is it that in the information age it is so hard to find the truth? There is always an agenda and information dissemination seems to follow dollars and hidden agendas.
So, here is what I can tell you based on what I saw. First of all, I wasn’t able to get to lower lying portions of the tide pool that spend more time under water. The low tide was at over 2 feet so the best observation area was under water when I took pictures. In reading about sea star waste disease, I have learned that the best place to look is the most suitable habitat. Those areas that dry out between tide swings are less ideal for star fish because of the risk of drying out. One of the assertions made in an article I read about the disease was that star fish could get similar lesions ( to one’s seen in waste disease) from drying out due to exposure. With that said, I feel like the best outdoor science lab in the tide pool to observe for the presence of the disease was not available today. While I didn’t see anything so alarming with the star fish observed that I would confirm the disease’s presence at Crescent Bay, I did see a few things that I would like to go back and take a closer look at. I will just need a lower tide.
Lesions and deformities are what would be visible among the population of star fish as evidence of the disease. I figured there would be a greater occurrence of the deformities than goo because the star fish is not living at this point and certainly not able to hang on to the rocks with incoming waves. For the most part, I didn’t see anything that was obvious or screamed of the presence of waste disease. I will say that the way the star fish dig into the mussel beds, it is really hard to tell if there are deformities on the arms of the stars because some of their limbs are not visible as they disappear into the beds. I did see a few that I wanted to take a closer look at. The tide level wouldn’t allow me to safely get down to them without falling in the water with my phone in hand. I did review one picture I took and found that it had a mark that could be a lesion that is said to be the start of the waste away process.
WHY I HAVE AN INTEREST IN SEA STAR WASTE DISEASE
First and foremost I love the ocean and am aware that we humans have put undue pressure on this valuable resource. From Fukushima Radiation to urban runoff, we have not been kind to our oceans. As an advocate for preserving the ocean and a place I love in Laguna Beach, I have given a lot of thought to why we need to protect our oceans. The numbers on this can’t be any more telling. Salt water makes up 98.5% of the 70% of the earth’s surface that is water. I don’t think that when you completely toxify 70% of the earth’s surface, which just so happens to deliver fresh water and food sources to people globally, that the future looks good. Secondly, I love Laguna Beach. My childhood memories go way back in Laguna Beach with family vacations and what we saw in the tide pools there was always a highlight of the trip. It is a fascinating coastal environment rich in marine life, picturesque landscapes, soft-sanded coves, exotic waters, majestic sea cliffs, and inter-tidal reefs that make it special. Unlike much of the Southern California Coastline with long, flat sandy beaches interrupted by piers and jetties, the Laguna Beach Coastline is alive. It is truly a special, special part of our coastline and we should do everything we can to preserve it.
I know that people out there are thinking about our environment. They hear and read stories about coral reef bleaching and collapses, urban runoff, de-oxygenated coastal zones, mysterious fish and marine mammal die-offs and are worried. While it isn’t a good idea to link these issues without science to things like Fukushima Radiation, it is healthy for every day people to be engaged in the plight of the marine environment. We need people to get involved and to become educated on what we are doing to the oceans that we need to fix. Awareness is not a bad thing, and while Laguna Beach is a place I like to shine the light on in terms of the need for us to protect, it is important to note that are mistreatment of the ocean and resulting pollution issues are found in varying degrees in every coastal environment that people live in. Those areas are no less important and must be protected to.
Sea Star waste disease is a problem among many. It has the attention of many because people are worried about Fukushima Radiation, people generally love star fish, and because people are beginning to see human survival tied to protecting our planet, a planet that is made up of close to 70% salt water!