Five years ago, a sixth-year class in Arkansas in the hinterland heard of a mass death of starfish on the west coast and felt compelled to help.
The 11 and 12 year olds have elected a president to head their fundraising. They cut paper stars – more formally known as starfish – and put them up for "adoption" for a $ 1 donation. They attributed names and personality traits, such as Cherry Bomb, which "loves to hang on the phone "," shakes the legging style "and" is very smart, but not a nerd. " They sold T-shirts that said, "Save the Starfish."
"We do not have an ocean around," said retired teacher Vickie Bailey. "The students knew they would never go to the coast, they would probably never see this kind of starfish, but they were so in love with what was happening."
When Drew Harvell, a professor of marine ecology and a researcher at Cornell University, received the $ 400 that Carl Stuart College in Conway collected, she knew the money should go to something important.
"I almost cried, I was so touched. So I agreed with $ 400 and then one of our donors put in a larger amount of money and that's basically the funding that allowed us to do the initial research, "Harvell said.
Let's move on to this day: Harvell and his co-authors are launching their study inspired by children's initial money. Cornell and the University of California, Davis, are publishing their work in Science Advances.
The campaign did not exactly save the starfish. The findings are terrible. But researchers now know much more about the scope of death after analyzing data from recreational divers and trained professionals and deep-sea trawling.
The disease of the starfish affected more than 20 species from Mexico to Alaska. Some species resisted the disease better and others evolved to survive.
At the time of the outbreak, the videos showed beaches full of dead sea stars' arms, internal organs spilling through lesions, Harvell recalled.
"This is [one of] the most extensive epidemic of wildlife diseases[s] we already recorded because there are so many species in a very wide geographical area, "Harvell said.
The effect has been particularly bad for the sunflower star, a creature of 3 to 4 feet wide that can have up to two dozen arms. The sunflower star "crawls over the seabed like a robotic vacuum cleaner, chewing everything in its path," as described by Cornell's media team.
Sunflower starfish, which live only on the west coast of North America, are virtually absent from the waters of California, Oregon and Washington.
Previous research has suggested that, with warmer temperatures linked to climate change, the wasting disease has a higher risk of infection and kills starfish faster. The new study found that the outbreaks of virus among sunflower starfish coincided with anomalously warm water.
And the disappearance of the species is having cascade effects on the ecosystem.
Sunflower starfish kept the sea urchin population under control, but now the numbers of the brats are exploding, leading to dams where they devoured algae habitats to the pink sea floor beneath them.
While the species is endangered in the lower 48, they are slightly better off in British Columbia and some places in Alaska, Harvell said. Researchers will need to understand whether the sunflower starfish can be repatriated if the disease leaves the west coast waters.
"It's really vital that something is done," Harvell said. "It's not a problem we've dealt with before, so I do not have an immediate hint as to what we would do. I think we definitely need to call a group of scientists and really talk about it and what are the top priority items."