We are proud to share the newest scientific publication that includes data from the REEF Volunteer Fish Survey Project. The study, published last month in the journal Science Advances, used REEF data from the Pacific Coast to evaluate the massive decline of the Sunflower Sea Star (Pycnopodia helianthoides). The study's analysis included almost 11,000 REEF surveys collected by our citizen scientists from California to Alaska over the last decade. The authors documented a precipitous decline in the important Sunflower Sea Star, primarily linked to the devastating sea star wasting disease epidemic that was wide-spread along the US and Canadian west coast starting in 2013, as well as warming ocean temperatures.
In many places along the US and Canadian Pacific coasts, the Sunflower Stars have failed to return, although they were once abundant. A continued decline or absence of this species will likely lead to a boom of sea urchins, loss of kelp, and other cascading effects on the ecosystem. The study findings might prompt consideration of listing the species on the Endangered Species List. To read the full paper, visit http://advances.sciencemag.org/content/5/1/eaau7042.
The paper, titled "Disease epidemic and a marine heat wave are associated with the continental-scale collapse of a pivotal predator (Pycnopodia helianthoides)," was spearheaded by researchers from Cornell University, UC Davis, and SeaDoc Society (longtime REEF partners, particularly with annual monitoring in the San Juan Islands). Our Director of Science, Dr. Christy Pattengill-Semmens, is one of twelve co-authors on the paper. This is the third scientific paper that has used REEF data to evaluate the impacts of the wasting disease. To see all the publications that have included REEF data, visit www.REEF.org/db/publications.
REEF extends a huge thank you to all our volunteer divers who have diligently collected data on this species and others over the course of many years. You are truly "Making Dives That Count!"