Experts fear arrival of starfish disease
Beachgoers are being asked to keep an eye out for sick-looking starfish, amid concerns a disease ravaging the marine animals overseas could also be lurking here.
Millions of starfish on the west coast of North America have sea-star wasting disease, or SSWD, which begins with curled limbs and lesions, and ends with the loss of arms, deflation and death.
It has affected more than 20 starfish species and has been found from Alaska to Baja California — making it the largest-ever observed incidence of marine disease.
Here, the University of Auckland’s Professor Mary Sewell and Associate Professor Ian Hewson, an SSWD expert from New York’s Cornell University, have been checking for it in three main New Zealand starfish — the reef starfish, at Piha, and the eleven-armed star and common cushion star, near Leigh.
Hewson said that although SSWD had also been found in China and Australia’s Port Phillip Bay, its cause was not fully understood.
“However, we believe it may be related to infection by a virus, abrupt swings in water temperature or precipitation, or a combination,” Hewson said. “Since waters of the Tasman Sea and surrounds have been anomalously warm over the last few months, it is possible that wasting may occur in New Zealand — so having eyes out there to report the disease is crucial for our understanding of causality.”
Sewell said there had so far been one suspected case in New Zealand.
People who spotted suspected cases were asked to send details to email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org, or to the SSWD — New Zealand Facebook page at bit.ly/2EqWPKK.