Publication Date August 24, 2017

B.C.'s coastal sea star population in increasingly hot water

Biologist Jackie Hildering says sun flower sea stars are the species she's seen most affected by sea star-associated densovirus. Photo: Brian Gratwicke, flickr

Rising ocean temperatures due to climate change could be causing the alarming decline of sea star populations off B.C.'s coast.

That's the conclusion of four years of research into the animals conducted by various organizations, including Cornell University, the Vancouver Aquarium, the University of British Columbia and the University of California.

Jackie Hildering, a biologist based in Port McNeill, B.C., says warmer waters can lead to younger sea stars becoming vulnerable to sea star-associated densovirus, a virus that marine biologists have been aware of for at least seven decades.

Hildering says the predators becoming increasingly susceptible to the disease in recent years led researchers to search for a "stressor" that could be causing the proliferation of the sickness. 

They found that, while it may not be the definitive "stressor," there is a clear correlation between an increase in temperature and the animals succumbing to the disease.