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Vancouver Islanders keeping their eyes on the sea stars

Citizen science endeavour part of Campbell River Ocean Week

Under some rocks on Campbell River's Willow Point Reef were some bright purple blobs.

That's exactly what participants in the Sea Star Survey hosted by the Discovery Passage Aquarium were looking for. They weren't just blobs either, they were actually Ochre Sea Stars, a species necessary for keeping others aquatic creatures like urchins in check.

"We live really close to the reef here, and we're concerned about the sea star population," said resident and volunteer Mark Kohler. "Without sea stars eating urchins that eat the kelp, the whole ecosystem is affected.

"It's just amazing down here. We were down near Port Renfrew on Botanical beach, and everybody talks about it being really cool in terms of sea life. I think we actually see more here than we do down there," Kohler said. "I"m just very interested in the health of the reef and making sure that we're helping out however we can."

The survey was part of Campbell River's Ocean Week, a week-long celebration of the marine environment. About ten people showed up for this particular event, split into groups of two and sent out to various locations on the reef to count and record the sea stars, their condition and their relative health. The whole point of the survey is to record the sea star population, which was hit hard in 2013 due to an outbreak of sea star wasting syndrome.

"Twenty different species were affected, including leather sea stars, ochre sea stars, sunflower sea stars and virtually every sea star was affected," said Ricky Belanger from the Discover Passage Aquarium "Since then, some species have shown promising signs of recovering. They've gained a lot from what's happened in the last 10 years."

The aquarium decided to enlist locals to carry out some citizen science to check populations and health of ochre sea stars on the reef. That population is generally healthy, but Belanger said it was still beneficial to keep an eye on the creatures.

"It's kind of death by 1,000 cuts," Belanger said about the wasting syndrome. A report by the American National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) says that the cause is unknown, but stressful conditions are major contributing factors.

"You can think of it like the common cold," Belanger said. "There's so many things that can impact your immune system."

Marc Kitteringham

About the Author: Marc Kitteringham

I joined Black press in early 2020, writing about the environment, housing, local government and more.
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