The study used almost 11,000 REEF Volunteer Fish Survey Project surveys collected between California and Alaska between 2006 and 2017 to evaluate the massive decline of the Sunflower Sea Star (Pycnopodia helianthoides). The authors documented a precipitous decline in the important species, 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, the Sunflower Sea Stars have failed to return. A 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.

A press release is available at

This is the third paper that has used REEF data to evaluate the impacts of the wasting disease. The other two are described at these links:  Devastating transboundary impacts of sea star wasting disease on subtidal asteroids (PLoS ONE) and Evidence for a trophic cascade on rocky reefs following sea star mass mortality in British Columbia (PeerJ).