In the intervening years, the Starfish Wasting Disease "event" had taken on a HUGE stage. UC Santa Cruz now monitors the health of west coast asteroids on their website (here).
The first Sea Star Wasting Symposium was held earlier this year in Seattle. A meeting which I attended and reported on here.
Perhaps one of the most significant losses following the massive starfish wasting disease epidemic that hit the west coast of North America (and possibly parts of the east coast) was the apocalyptic loss of the iconic sunflower sea star, Pycnopodia helianthoides.
These animals were voracious predators and for starfish, moved quickly across the intertidal and subtidal...
Sunflower Stars are an ecologically important species.
Unfortunately, populations of this species were DEVASTATED by the starfish wasting disease epidemic. More so than almost any of the other species, the sunflower stars were more often than not, completely removed from local areas along the coast.
Ecologically this has had VERY significant ramifications. Recent ecological studies, such as this 2016 paper in PeerJ by Schultz et al have indicated that green sea urchin abundance in British Columbia has increased FOUR FOLD!
This has agreed somewhat with anecdotal observations by naturalists on Twitter observing sea urchin abundance in California...
Ever since the disappearance of Pycnopodia sea stars, the purple urchins have become very common - coincidence...? pic.twitter.com/LohVivn8YJ— M. Sid Kelly (@MSidKelly) June 12, 2016
Those of us who are most familiar with the West coast fauna.. divers, naturalists, scientists, citizen scientists, beach goers, students, fishermen, anyone with an intertidal or subtidal ID guide was suddenly NOT seeing this species. It was and still is a significant and sad loss.
And so.. observations of THIS species have had a SPECIAL significance..
BUT today, a colleague of mine, Ms. Brenna Green observed THIS. A juvenile Pycnopodia helianthoides in Northern California!! According to her, one of the first she's seen in a good long while!!
I was directed to iNaturalist which has been monitoring observations of ALL asteroids on the west coast.. There were only 60 observations of Pycnopodia since 2014!!- so only about 20 per year that are reported Note also-some of those observations were from areas that are distant from the primary Sea Star Wasting Disease areas (such as Alaska).
Make no mistake, that's a very low number... but surprising considering that they were considered completely gone from some areas..
But they ARE still out there. And are still popping up..
An anecdotal skim of Flickr and Twitter shows that small sunflower stars have been popping up over the last year or so...
From Titlow, Tacoma, Washington from February 29, 2016