Starfish are dying in Nanaimo due to a flesh-eating-like disease and there could be a correlation to climate change, according to a fourth-year Vancouver Island University biology student.
As part of the Create Conference, a showcase of students’ research and projects, Kayla Balmer said there have been occurrences of sea star wasting disease in the Neck Point Park, Protection Island and Newcastle Island areas.
The aim of her study was to record instances of the disease in the area and to find out if occurrences of the disease vary amongst sizes and season.
Water temperature seems to play a factor, according to Balmer’s research.
“With climate change, that means that the ocean temperature is warming and they found that increased temperature is a huge factor in the intensity of this disease,” said Balmer.
She said the disease is waterborne, initially appearing like a white scar with eventual tissue deterioration. It covers the starfish’s entire body and can cause death within days or even within a few hours.
“In the summertime, the prevalence is highest then and then, as the months go on, the water cools and all those sea stars that have the disease have died off and then starting December is when you start seeing juveniles, little sea stars … Will they be able to survive through the summer and reproduce?
“We don’t know if it’s getting worse, we don’t know if it is actually going to settle out until we start looking at this summer to see will they be able to survive,” said Balmer.
She was one of over 80 students taking part in the Create Conference, according to Kathryn Jepson, event organizer.
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“It’s a chance for them to build their resumé up, for if they’re going on to graduate school, or just give them presentation skills … or share their research with a wider audience,” said Jepson.
Awards will be handed out. The three-day conference ends today (March 26).