Climate crisis: Warming oceans linked to mass starfish die-offs around the world

  • 8-01-2021, 15:32
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    A massive die-off of starfish across the world, leading some species to the brink of extinction, has been linked to warming ocean temperatures caused by the climate crisis, scientists have said.

    For more than seven years, a mysterious wasting disease, which turns starfish (also known as sea stars) into “piles of goo”, has caused mass mortality events capable of upending food chains in affected areas, which have been recorded from Alaska down to the gulf of Mexico.

    Researchers have previously described it as the single largest, most geographically widespread marine disease ever recorded.

    But new research suggests the starfish may be dying due to respiratory distress and literally “drowning” in their own environments due to higher levels of microbial activity caused by local organic matter thriving in warming oceans.

    The research team, led by marine biologists at Cornell University, said the changes to the environment “rob the creatures of their ability to breathe”.

    “As humans, we breathe, we ventilate, we bring air into our lungs and we exhale,” said Ian Hewson, professor of microbiology at Cornell University.

    “Sea stars diffuse oxygen over their outer surface through little structures called papulae, or skin gills. If there is not enough oxygen surrounding the papulae, the starfish can't breathe.”