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Sea Star in advanced stage of SSWSNEWPORT – The rapid loss of sea stars along the US west coast may be caused in part by environmental changes, and not solely by a specific pathogen as many had previously thought.

This new hypothesis emerged from a recent symposium on sea star wasting syndrome (SSWS) hosted at Oregon State University’s Hatfield Marine Science Center. Oregon Sea Grant enlisted the Center’s support to bring together 40 top researchers from as far north as Alaska and as far south as Santa Barbara, California. The goal was to clarify the science and develop recommendations for further research, monitoring and possible responses to SSWS.

“I think we can all agree that this is one of the biggest epidemics ever in the ocean in terms of range and the number of species,” said Drew Harvell, a researcher from Cornell who is on sabbatical at Friday Harbor Labs in Washington.

SSWS is the name for a series of symptoms exhibited as a sea star “wastes” away and ultimately dies. Other outbreaks have been observed in the 1970s and 1990s, but despite similar symptoms there are some key differences. The current outbreak—which began in 2013—continued throughout the winter, which has never before been observed, in addition to occurring on a much larger geographic scale.

Through the symposium, researchers from different fields—ecologists, pathologists, veterinarians, and more—joined forces to piece together what is known about the disappearing stars. New evidence has failed to show consistent signs of either bacterial or viral infections, leading scientists to question whether a single pathogen is the culprit. In addition, they noticed correlations between warmer average water temperatures and the syndrome’s appearance.

“Increases in temperature lead to a cascade of oceanographic changes, ultimately leading to lower pH,” said Bruce Menge, an OSU researcher who studies the intertidal zone.

Under this hypothesis, the lower pH would deteriorate the protective outer layers of the sea star. The stars would then struggle to balance their internal concentration of salt and water and would slowly waste away. The increased acidity could also cause calcified bone-like support structures—called ossicles—to erode once exposed.

A similar idea is that the warming temperatures and lower pH could stress the animal and weaken its immune system. After that, any number of pathogens could be responsible for causing the animals to waste and die.

“It’s possible that sea stars only have a limited suite of ways to show they are stressed,” said Mike Murray, a veterinarian from the Monterey Bay Aquarium.

A number of ocean conditions – upwelling, for instance – can cause pockets of warmer or cooler water. This variation could explain why a few areas of the west coast have thus far escaped the outbreaks for the most part.

Symposium participants agreed that the exact cause of the outbreak remains a mystery. While environmental drivers are getting new attention, the idea of an infectious disease is still prominent. Harvell and her colleagues are working to identify exactly which pathogen could cause SSWS. All of these potential hypotheses provide testable research questions for future studies.

Going forward, attendees are writing group documents to summarize both what is known and what further actions need to be taken to investigate these and other hypotheses. The papers are expected to be completed in August, and to include suggestions for how to best locate and compare existing environmental data, in addition to encouraging more directed monitoring.

Learn more

To find out more about SSWS, or to get involved in the monitoring, visit these sites with information on citizen science programs near you:

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Sea Star Wasting Syndrome Timeline:

  • 1976-79: A devastating SSWS event took out large numbers of sea stars along the west coast. It was believed to be a bacterial event due to the effectiveness of antibiotic treatment.
  • 1983-84: SSWS was found in areas with warmer waters as a result of an intense El Nino event. The outbreak spread to other echinoderms  such as sea urchins. Cold winter temperatures halted the spread.
  • 1997-98: Another round of SSWS hit, also spurred by an intense El Nino, but subsided in the winter like previous events.
  • June 2013: The current bout of SSWS was discovered in Olympic National Park in Washington.
  • October/November 2013: Sea stars began dying in large numbers in Monterey, CA.
  • December 2013: SSWS was detected at sites ranging from Alaska to San Diego. Oregon seemed immune at this point for unknown reasons.
  • January 2014: Despite the fact that previous SSWS events subsided during the winter,  the current outbreak continued to spread, especially in southern California.
  • April 2014: While SSWS spread widely along the California and Washington coasts, less than 1% of Oregon stars exhibited signs of the disease.
  • May 2014: About halfway through the month, the percentage of stars exhibiting SSWS skyrocketed in Oregon to between 40 and 60 percent of the populations surveyed.
  • June 2014: Researchers convened at the Hatfield Marine Science Center in Newport, OR, to discuss what is known and what should be done about SSWS.
under: climate, conferences, ecology, environment, marine animals, Oregon State University, research

Wetland, by Jane WilsonJane Wilson is a licensed K-8 teacher, an outdoor enthusiast, and a graduate of Oregon State University’s Oregon Master Naturalist certification program who blogs her thoughts and photographs – about coastal Oregon and the North Coast in particular.

In the introduction to her blog, Wilson writes:

“My commitment to learning how to better observe, interpret, and share information about the natural sciences associated with dynamic earth is heart-felt. Inspiration comes from eagerness to nurture a sense of wonder about the natural world. I’d like to be an advocate who supports others in defining their own connections with nature, understanding why those connections are important, and … in the process, becoming nature literate.”

Check out her observations, adventures and photographs about nature and our place in it at Just Another Nature Enthusiast.

Learn more:

  • OSU’s Oregon Master Naturalist program, a collaborative training program presented by OSU Extension with funding from Oregon Sea Grant Extension, Forestry & Natural Resources Extension and Agricultural Sciences & Natural Resources Extension, and by participants’ enrollment fees.
under: courses, classes and workshops, ecology, environment, Extension, marine education, Northwest history, Oregon Sea Grant, water quality & conservation, watersheds

Shop at the Dock takes mystery out of seafood buying

Posted by: | July 9, 2014 Comments Off |

NEWPORT – With summer at its peak, so is the craving for fresh, local seafood – but first-time buyers sometimes have questions about purchasing directly from local fishermen.

Enter Oregon Sea Grant’s Fishery Extension Agent, Ruby Moon, who will provide four free, guided “Shop at the Dock” seafood-buying tours this month from the commercial fishing docks in Newport.

Tours start at noon on July 11, 19, 24 and 30 at the entrance of Port Dock 5 on the Newport bayfront. Buyers should bring:

  • An ice chest filled with ice
  • Cash for purchasing seafood
  • Their questions about direct market vessels and choosing and buying fresh seafood.

Learn more:

under: crab, Extension, fisheries, fishermen, seafood, summer activities, waterfronts

Teacher workshops on coastal STEM education

Posted by: | June 19, 2014 Comments Off |

Oregon Sea Grant and the Northwest Aquatic and Marine Educators (NAME) invite classroom teachers to the Oregon Coast for two in-depth, hands-on workshops exploring the practice of science in a diversity of coastal habitats, designed to equip them with “best practices” in coastal and marine STEM education.

Topics for the workshops, which are sponsored by the Oregon Coast Education Project and take place in June, July and August in Newport and Charleston, include coastal ecology and habitats, impacts and solutions including climate connections, working with data sets and making connections to their own schools.

Registration, which covers the three-day workshops, lodging, meals and materials, is through  NAME, whose current members receive a discount on registration fees. Continuing education credits are available through Portland State University.

A workshop for 3d-8th grade classroom educators takes place in Newport, June30-July 2; the workshop for 6th-12th-grade educators is scheduled for Charleston Aug. 13-15.

Registration includes post-workshop support from OCEP staff as teachers develop and implement coastal education plans during the 2014-15 school year. Teachers who opt to implement such plans are required to complete an evaluation and will receive a stipend at the conclusion of the school year. CEP will also hold small, regional group work sessions during the school year for workshop participants to help integrate other teaching partners who were unable to attend a summer session.

Registration may be completed at the NAME Website.

Learn more:

 

 

under: courses, classes and workshops, marine education, STEM education
HydroStare

2013 Malouf Scholar, Michelle Fournet

The Malouf Scholarship is awarded to support a graduate student who combines societally relevant research with education or public engagement. The student can be enrolled at any College or University in Oregon while working towards a degree in any field compatible with Oregon Sea Grant’s mandate and areas of interest. There are no restrictions on the discipline, which may include, but is not limited to: biological, geological, physical and chemical sciences; marine resource management and policy; marine resource economics; social sciences; engineering; geology; education or public health. The overriding purpose of the Scholarship is to make a difference by providing a significant contribution to students seeking advanced degrees and to contribute to building the nation’s future capacity in the marine sciences.

Applications due: July 21, 2014

For more information please visit the website: http://seagrant.oregonstate.edu/education/fellowships

 

under: Oregon Sea Grant

Terra: Diving for science

Posted by: | June 4, 2014 Comments Off |

Terra magazine coverTotal immersion: Researchers dive, sometimes into treacherous waters, in the search for disease-fighting compounds and solutions to crashing fisheries. Ensuring their safety is Kevin Buch’s job.

Check out the latest issue of Terra, OSU’s research magazine, for a fascinating article about marine scientists – including Sea Grant-funded Kerry McPhail – whose other “lab” is  in the deep, blue sea … and the veteran diver who trains them to stay safe in sometimes perilous waters.

Learn more:

 

under: biopharmaceuticals, marine safety, marine science, Oregon State University, research

“Stranded” seal pups probably aren’t

Posted by: | May 23, 2014 Comments Off |

Seal pups rest on shoreNEWPORT – Around this time each year, many baby seal pups find their way to Oregon’s beaches … and each year, well-meaning people  put the young animals in danger by trying to “rescue” them.

The word from the experts: Keep your distance, keep your dogs on leash – and whatever you do, don’t touch. The pups are simply waiting for their mothers to return from hunting for food.

“It is perfectly normal for seal pups to be left alone on the beach in the spring,” said Oregon State University biologist Jim, who coordinates the statewide Oregon Marine Mammal Stranding Network headquartered at OSU’s Marine Mammal Institute at the Hatfield Marine Science Center. “Newborn pups typically spend several hours each day waiting for their mothers to reunite with them.”

“Adult female seals spend most of their time in the water, hunting for food, and only come ashore periodically to nurse their pups,” Rice said. “But the mothers are wary of people and unlikely to rejoin a pup if there is activity nearby.”

Rice urges beach goers to stay at least 50 yards from any pup they spot on the beach – and to make sure children and dogs do, too. Approaching the young animals can cause life-threatening stress, and will almost certainly keep their mothers from rejoining them.

Harbor seals on the Oregon coast give birth from March through June, with a peak in mid-May, and authorities have grown accustomed to reports of “stranded” baby seals as more summer visitors come to the coast. Such reports are unnecessary unless an animal appears to be injured or in distress – or if you spot someone bothering or harassing the animals. In such cases, Rice urges a call to the Oregon State Police at 1-800-452-7888, Rice said.

Under the Marine Mammal Protection Act, people harrassing these animals – even out of a misplaced desire to help – risk being fined. The federal Marine Mammal Protection Act prohibits interference with seal pups and other marine mammals on the beach.

Learn more:

under: beach safety, marine animals, marine mammals, Posters

Field guide helps you identify aquatic invaders

Posted by: | May 22, 2014 Comments Off |

Oregon Sea Grant is pleased to announce the release of its latest field guide, On the Lookout for Aquatic Invaders: Identification Guide for the West. The guide is an updated, revised, and expanded edition of its popular predecessor, which covered aquatic invasives in the Northwest only.On-the-Lookout-cover

Nonnative species are altering freshwater and marine ecosystems in the West, and more species are introduced every year.

This identification guide was developed to help watershed councils and other community-based groups increase their understanding of aquatic invasive species, and to initiate monitoring efforts for species of particular concern to their watersheds.

The introduction provides an overview of activities that can spread invasive species, a look at their economic impacts, and suggestions for ways we can work together to prevent and control their spread. The rest of the book covers background information and key identification characteristics of many aquatic invaders that are already established or likely to become established in the West, and tells where to access additional experts and how to report sightings of invasive species.

The 92-page guide is lavishly illustrated with full-color photographs to aid identification, is coil bound to lie flat when opened, and has a laminated cover for water resistance.

On the Lookout for Aquatic Invaders is available for just $8.95 per copy, plus $4.50 for shipping and handling. You can order it here.

under: ecology, environment, invasive species, marine animals, marine education, marine science, news, Oregon Sea Grant, publications, regional projects, science education, sustainability
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As boating season opens, remember: Pump, Don’t Dump!

Posted by: | May 20, 2014 Comments Off |

With Memorial Day coming up – and National Safe Boating Week underway now – a reminder that one way boaters can make the waters safer for everyone is to take advantage of sewage pumpout stations rather than dumping their waste in the ocean, rivers and lakes.

Dumping waste isn’t just bad for the environment and other water users – it’s against the law, and boaters caught dumping on inland waters or within 3 miles of the coast at sea risk hefty fines.

Oregon Sea Grant and the Oregon State Marine Board collaborated on this short, humorous public service announcement demonstrating just how easy proper waste disposal can be:

OSG has also designed and begun placing pumpout and dump station signs at marinas up and down the Oregon coast and on selected lakes.

Learn more

under: environment, fishermen, marine education, Oregon Sea Grant, public communication

A summer opportunity – Oregon South Coast Tourism

Posted by: | May 16, 2014 Comments Off |

College students: Looking for a great way to spend the summer while learning and working with coastal Oregon communities? Take a look at our newest fellowship opportunity on Oregon’s south coast!

Oregon Sea Grant and the Wild Rivers Coast Alliance (WRCA) are offering an epic summer outreach experience. One upper-level undergraduate or graduate level student will experience the beauty of the south coast and help develop WRCA coastal tourism programs and initiatives to vitalize south coast communities. This hands-on experience features mentorship by a career professional, student housing in Bandon, Oregon, if needed, and a summer stipend. The fellowship dates are flexible -between June and September- and will span about ten weeks.

Visit http://seagrant.oregonstate.edu/education/fellowships for more details about the fellowship and to submit an application.

Application deadline: May 30, 2014.

 

under: economics, fellowships, internships, jobs, marine education, Oregon Sea Grant, outreach and engagement, position announcements, scholarships, Sea Grant Scholars, summer activities

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