The fate of West Coast starfish is now in the hands of congress. Unlike the starfish, the hands of congressmen aren’t melting off, which is probably why they aren’t rushing to address this issue. First discovered on the rugged and isolated wilderness beach of Olympic National Park, starfish along the West Coast of the United States and Canada are infected with what appears to be a disease that turns their appendages to mush. The event isn’t limited to a few starfish here and there, instead it is impacting the entire species, and threatens to devastate the entire ecosystem of the west coast.
Derek Kilmer, the representative from Washington State’s 6th district, which includes the Olympic Peninsula and Olympic National Park, had the following to say in an interview,
“They’re a keystone species: You take them out of the sound or out of the Pacific Ocean and it hurts animals like fish and whales that are higher up on the food chain. We can’t have essential species like starfish disappear. That would cause dire impacts.”
Derek Kilmer’s Puget Sound colleague in the House, Denny Heck, agrees, and is quite passionate in his love for the Pacific Northwest. In an quote taken from the Alaskan Dispatch News, Representative Heck said,
“The origin of my passion dates to being a kid on the Washington coast and picking them up, seashells and sea stars. If you grow up here and your parents go camping on the coast, it’s one of those wondrous things. … It tugs at my heart. This is a massive kill-off, and we have absolutely no federal mechanism to respond.”
The bill is quite simple in nature, no pun intended. It would not only set up a national volunteer working group to advise the federal government on marine disease emergencies, but it would also create a national data repository to quickly disseminate any research linked to starfish deaths in all states. Right now, we don’t even have a a needed level of infrastructure to study this massive die-off, and without funding, it might never happen. I know, there should be a better way to do this, but this is the system we currently have.
What we are witnessing, according to those researching the phenomenon, is possibly the largest outbreak of a disease ever seen amongst natural populations of animals. While many will debate whether this is due to climate change, pollution, other manmade reasons, or none of the above, the starfish will continue to keep melting. For many, the issue of the starfish die-off is horrible news, something they wish they could do something about- but what can you really do?
The answer to that usually rhetorical question is simple. If you care about the health of the environment, and do indeed care about how we treat the planet, contact your representative.
Do it every day. Send them tweets, send them emails, give them phone calls.