Starfish Ripped Apart by Mysterious Disease
April 22, 2011 --
Earth Day isn't just about life on land. It's also an opportunity to explore the organisms that inhabit the oceans. The University of Miami's Rosenstiel of Marine and Atmospheric Science hosts an annual photo contest for the best snapshot of life under the sea. More than 600 images were submitted from an international pool of photographers. This shot of two transparent gobies, taken in MarsaAlam, Egypt, claimed the top prize as the best overall photo of the competition. Explore some of the other photos to claim top prizes in the 2011 underwater photography contest in this slide show.
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This pygmy seahorse, Hippocampus bargibanti, may be difficult to spot, given how well it blends into its environment and the fact that these seahorses don't grow any larger than an inch. But this snapshot earned first prize in the contest's "Marco" category.
This vibrantly colored nudibranch (Cratena peregrina) was seen in Tarragona, Catalonia, Spain.
A nudibranch and a mantis shrimp rest on the sea floor of Bali's Seraya Beach in Indonesia.
Cuttlefish are seen mating off in the Oosterschelde estuary near the town of Zeeland, Netherlands. This photo took the top prize in the "Wide-Angle" category.
A stingray is surround by cardinal fish in this photo taken in Mogan in Gran Canaria, Spain.
This brightly colored jellyfish was spotted in Lake Worth Lagoon in Riviera Beach, Fla. The photo took the top prize in the "Fish or Marine Animal Portrait" category.
This web burrfish (Chilomycterus antillarum was spotted in the same location as the jellyfish in the previous slide. If it looks like it's smiling, that's because this photo took home second prize in the portrait category.
This frog catches its own reflection at the surface of a lake in Belgium just as the photographer snaps a picture.
This snapshot of an orange spotted filefish, Oxymonacanthus longirostris, claimed the top prize in the "Student" category. The fish was spotted in the water of YasawasIslands, Fiji.
This whale shark (Rhincodon typus) and its entourage were spotted cruising the depths of Ningaloo Reef, Western Australia.
Starfish limbs wrench themselves from their bodies when suffering from a mysterious new disease. Biologists don’t know what causes the affliction or how to stop it. And the loss of tens of thousands of starfish, also known as sea stars, threatens to unbalance the ecosystems of the North American coasts.
Last summer, scientists first observed the disease at Starfish Point on Washington’s Olympic Peninsula, reported KCTS’s EarthFix. The disease also decimated starfish populations in Vancouver Harbor and Howe Sound in Canada last summer, according to the Vancouver Aquarium. Now, the disease has been spotted in patches from southern California to Alaska and on the eastern coasts of the United States.
Biologists named the mysterious illness, “starfish-wasting syndrome,” but haven’t devised a way to stop it, nor have they even determined where the disease originated, reported KCTS.
When the disease hits, starfish may develop lesions on their skin. Then their arms writhe and contort until the appendages break away from the body. Normally, starfish can regenerate lost arms, but not after the disease strikes. Instead, the lost arms allow the starfish guts to leak out from their central body cavity, killing the marine predator.
First, the sunflower star, Pycnopodia helianthoides, fell to the disease, then the purple sea star, Pisaster ochraceus. Now, at least 12 species suffer from starfish wasting syndrome.
After hearing the reports from Canada, diver and videographer, Laura James filmed the syndrome’s devastation of starfish off the coast of Seattle, reported PBS. James started a website, www.sickstarfish.com, to help monitor the spread of the disease. When people notice signs of the disease, they can report their sightings via social media using #sickstarfish. The University of California also hosts a tracking and reporting website.
Monitoring and stopping the spread of the disease could help save the marine ecosystems of North America, because starfish prevent overpopulation of herbivores.
Starfish eat sea urchins, which if too numerous can devour much of the kelp forests of the western coast North America.