Scientists Are Breeding Sea Stars in a Lab to Rehabilitate Warming Oceans

BNN Bloomberg

In an island laboratory off the coast of Washington State, scientists are bringing back to life a gorgeously ferocious predator that suddenly perished amid a climate change-driven marine heat wave seven years ago.

A disease magnified by a warming ocean killed an estimated 5.75 billion sunflower sea stars between 2013 and 2017 — nearly 91% of the global population that stretched from Mexico to Alaska. Now an initiative that is breeding the sea star in captivity for the first time may be the best chance to revive both the species and carbon dioxide-sequestering kelp forests also decimated by climate change.

The three-foot-wide invertebrate once sped across the ocean floor on 15,000 tube feet, its 24 Technicolor arms gobbling up purple sea urchins and other critters. With the species functionally extinct in California, seaweed-eating purple urchins have proliferated, devouring bull kelp forests along a 200 mile stretch of the north coast where the sunflower sea star was the urchins’ main predator. That has had disastrous consequences for hundreds of marine species, including commercially valuable abalone, that depend on seaweed. Kelp cover has fallen more than 95% since 2014, devastating fishing communities.

Read more >