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Dying Starfish Could Get Help From Congress

September 22, 2014

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Researchers have been scrambling for more than a year to make sense of a strange disease that’s causing West Coast starfish to die by the millions.

Now it looks like help could be coming from Congress.

Solving the Mystery Of Dying Starfish on America's West Coast

U.S. Rep. Denny Heck from Olympia introduced a bill Thursday that would dedicate federal funds for researching the epidemic, which has now spread along North America’s Pacific coast from Alaska to Mexico and in some places on the East Coast as well.

The disease has hit more than 20 species of West Coast starfish. Scientists are calling it the largest marine disease outbreak ever recorded.

Drew Harvell, a marine epidemiologist at Cornell University, has been studying the outbreaks in Puget Sound and is leading nationwide efforts to understand the epidemic. She says this legislation is critical because tracking marine disease outbreaks is so challenging.

“Disease outbreaks — they’re like lightning strikes. They occur unpredictably and rapidly,” Harvell says. “To identify their causative microorganisms or stop them from spreading requires significant scientific investigations on really short notice.”

Scientists Close in on the Cause of Sea Star Wasting Syndrome

The proposed legislation would authorize the appropriation of up to $15 million a year. It would also establish a fund to accept private donations and a plan for declaring and responding to the sea star disease outbreaks as well as future marine disease emergencies.



Made possible in part by

Sea Star Wasting Syndrome Photo

Katie Campbell

Katie Campbell was the senior managing editor for video at Cascade Public Media and a founding reporter of the public media reporting partnership EarthFix. She covered environmental issues of the Pacific Northwest for more than six years, earning numerous regional and national journalism awards including eight regional Emmy Awards for reporting, photography and editing, a 2017 Edward R. Murrow Award for Excellence in Innovation and the 2015 international Kavli Science Journalism Gold Award from the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Katie currently works as a video journalist for the investigative journalism nonprofit organization ProPublica in New York City.

More stories by Katie Campbell

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I hope the legislation went through. Does anyone know? I wonder if the disease is triggered from ocean acidification? Hopefully they are looking at that in their research. Maybe they can pin point the beginning of the die off with decreased PH levels.