British Columbia

Sea star wasting syndrome may have spread to Haida Gwaii

A disease that causes sea stars to fall apart may have spread to Haida Gwaii. If confirmed, this will be the first time sea star wasting disease would have been found in northern waters.

If confirmed, this will be the first time the disease would have been found in northern waters

A disease that causes sea stars to fall apart may have spread to Haida Gwaii. If confirmed, this will be the first time sea star wasting disease would have found in northern waters. (Oregon State University, Elizabeth Cherny-Chipman/The Associated Press)

A disease that causes sea stars to fall apart may have spread to Haida Gwaii.

If confirmed, this will be the first time sea star wasting disease would have been found in northern B.C. waters. The condition has killed millions of the marine creatures from California to Vancouver.

Aggie Cangardel, a marine biologist for the Council of the Haida Nation, says scientists believe they have found it off the coast of Haida Gwaii.

"Sea stars are really important in the ecosystem around here. They're a keystone species which means they keep other populations in check, so without the population of sea stars it's completely unpredictable."

Samples of sea stars believed to have the disease have been sent to the Vancouver Aquarium for analysis.

Promising sign?

In a surprising twist, divers in Nanaimo are anecdotally seeing a comeback in sea stars. The aquarium at Vancouver Island University's Deep Bay Marine Field Station were able to restock with new sea stars from the local beach, whereas last year there were no sea stars to be found. 

Brian Kingzett, manager of the field station, says it's a very promising sign.

"They're starting to see more young sea stars, more live sea stars," he said.

"It may be just like other disease epidemics where the animals that were infected have all died off and now new ones are replacing them."

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