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Love Where You Live

JULY
2024

 

By Deborah Short

The coastal waters of Vancouver Island is home to a diverse group of Starfish, also known as Sea Stars. Contrary to popular belief Starfish are not fish, rather they are part of the animal kingdom and closely related to sea urchins, sand dollars and sea cucumbers. The most common Sea Stars we see on local beaches are generally known as the purple Sea Star or Ochre Sea Star. These Sea Stars can live up to 20 years and are considered keystone species in many intertidal regions. Their colours are vibrant, ranging from purple, orange, and yellow.

The Ochre Sea Star are one of two main classes of Sea Stars called, Asterioidea, meaning star-like, and although they are the classic Sea Stars, their ancestors date back 450 million years. On rocky shores, we can observe, Leather Sea Stars, bright orange in colour with a smooth skin from the secretion of a thick mucus which covers their bodies. Both of these Sea Stars will feast on sea urchins, sea anemones, barnacles, snails and mussels. The Ochre Sea Star and Leather Sea Star have few predators but sea otters and sea gulls will sometimes feast on them. Since sea otters will typically only eat half of the Leather Sea Star, this allows for regeneration, making them a hardy species. However, the populations of these precious and beautiful Sea Stars face ongoing threats. Sea Star wasting disease, a bacteria/virus that thrives in warming waters caused by climate change has virtually wiped out the Sunflower Sea Star and affected the population of both Ochre and Leather Sea Stars. Yet the biggest threat to Sea Stars is humans. Many Sea Stars that wash up on the beach or in shallow waters are handled, poked and often removed from the wet sand and water. Some are violently thrown back into the water in an effort to save them. Others are selfishly used as ornaments for sand castles and adorned on human bodies for that perfect yet mindless photo. Because of these human actions the Sea Stars suffocate to death in the air within 3-5 minutes due to lack of water and inability to breathe. They are extremely fragile and prone to stress when touched/thrown which also contaminates them with bacteria from human hands resulting in a painful and slow death.

In order to protect and respect these incredibly special Sea Stars, who are vitally important members of the ocean’s ecosystem, we must only admire and photograph them without touch. They must be left alone in nature where they can peacefully thrive.

 

 

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