Katie_Campbell159 karma2014-02-24 19:09:17 UTC
A network of scientists on both coasts received rapid response funding from the National Science Foundation to investigate the die-offs. It’s one of the fastest-ever mobilizations of research around a marine epidemic. Diver Laura James and I have been following the infectiousness experiments that they're conducting here in Puget Sound. They're also taking samples from dying starfish up and down the west coast to send to a lab at Cornell University. They're using DNA sequencing and metagenomics to analyze the samples for viruses as well as bacteria and other protozoa in order to pinpoint the infectious agent among countless possibilities. It really is like a matrix, but from what scientists are telling us, they're homing in on the cause and may be able to make an announcement in a few months. We'll be sure to follow up.
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Katie_Campbell88 karma2014-02-24 18:33:33 UTC
The short answer is almost definitely no. Scientists do not see a connection between the massive die-offs of starfish along the Pacific shores of North America and Japan’s Fukushima nuclear disaster. Here are some reasons why:
1. Recent tests for radiation in seawater along the west coast have found “no detectable Fukushima cesium.” While small amounts of radioactive have reached the west coast, the largest concentration of radioactive water released during the nuclear meltdown is still moving across the Pacific. Scientists predict that the radiation plume will reach the west coast of the United States by around April 2014.
2. The die-offs are patchy. This doesn’t line up with a giant plume of radiation moving across the Pacific. They’re popping up in certain places like Seattle and Santa Barbara and not in others, such as coastal Oregon, where there’s only been one report.
3. Sites closer to the Pacific shorelines are being affected sooner than places farther out to sea. And there have not been reports of starfish die-offs in Hawaii or Japan. If Fukushima were the cause, it would stand to reason that starfish closer to the source would also be impacted.
4. Sea star wasting syndrome predates the Fukushima nuclear disaster. Some of the earliest accounts of sea star wasting took place in the late 1990s. The Fukushima nuclear disaster happened in March 2011.
Katie_Campbell75 karma2014-02-24 21:02:12 UTC
For this die-off to involve 12 different species dying rapidly across such a large latitudinal scale makes this an event scientists haven't seen before. That's why they're making it a high priority to understand both how it started, how it’s propagating, what the rates of transmission are and what kinds of infectious agents might be involved.
Katie_Campbell45 karma2014-02-24 18:39:03 UTC
As I wrote the script for the video, I decided not to raise the issue of Fukushima because all the research I'd conducted through extensive interviews with scientists lead me to feel that raising this issue would be directing too much attention to an issue that scientists had largely ruled out. Fukushima felt like a red herring. However, once the video was released, hundreds of commenters have declared that the die-offs must be caused by Fukushima. So I've been trying to follow up and explain further why scientists don't believe this is the likely cause. Here's the latest article I wrote.
Katie_Campbell39 karma2014-02-24 19:40:29 UTC
I love this question. :-)
First Water is literally is the life blood of a sea star. They are really sensitivity to any changes in salinity and water quality. Toxic materials of any kind could conceivably affect them. So they’re the canary in coal mine and when they're dying by the tens or even hundreds of thousands, it's an indication of something being out of whack in the marine environment. Second Sea stars are voracious predators, like lions on the seafloor. They gobble up mussels, clams, sea cucumbers, crab and even other starfish. That’s why they’re called a keystone species, meaning they have a disproportionate impact on an ecosystem, shaping the biodiversity of the seascape. When a predator species is removed, the prey species can take over and go wild and they end up overgrazing .... it can end up reducing the overall biodiversity of an area.
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