SAN FRANCISCO (KCBS)— In recent months, starfish, also known as sea stars, have been dying by the millions up and down the Pacific Coast. Over 20 species have been affected in the die off according to Dr. Jennifer Scarlett, a veterinarian with the San Francisco SPCA.

“It has caused great, catastrophic mortality,” she said. “Researchers are calling it sea star wasting syndrome because of how quickly and devastating the disease is.”

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Scarlett says researchers believe the die offs are due to warmer water temperatures.

“Warmer temperatures allow bacteria and viruses to replicate faster. They also cause a physiological stress on the starfish causing a perfect storm for a disease outbreak.”

The species play an important predatory role by consuming mussels and other shellfish. If they disappear, there’s concern over serious ecological consequences.

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“They’re considered a keystone species:  meaning once they fall, we’re not sure what else will crumble.”

You can help researchers if you go to the beach a lot. Go to SFSPCA.org for a list of researchers you can contact if you find ill starfish.

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As far as the climate collapse issue; she says that’s a bigger question. “I think we all have to do some soul searching on what we can do as individuals in a society to curb climate collapse.”