**This blog entry orginally appeared on the website oceanspaces.org.**/p>
Early in the summer of 2013, Dr. Pete Raimondi of UC Santa Cruz started receiving calls from people all over California reporting that their local sea stars were turning to goo or disappearing. Raimondi is part of the collaborative research groups called Multi-agency Rocky Intertidal Network (MARINe) and Partnership for Interdisciplinary Studies of Coastal Oceans (PISCO). What is now known as “sea star wasting syndrome” was just beginning its most recent epidemic. From those early days, Raimondi thought these interested coastal residents could play a large role in better understanding the dynamics of the syndrome.
“If there’s one thing people care about in the rocky intertidal, it’s sea stars” stated Raimondi when referring to the early days of tracking the epidemic. They’re charismatic, live in places people love to visit, and sea star species are very easy to tell apart. The syndrome, while quite sad, is easy to track, leaving visibly ‘melting’ sea stars with easily distinguishable stages of infection. “The opportunity was perfect for citizen science participation,” Raimondi continued.
Based on public interest and the need to better understand the scale and timing of sea star wasting as it progressed, Raimondi and his team, in collaboration with a suite of organizations, created a website where people could find more information and report their sightings of infected sea stars.
“There’s lots of traffic in the rocky intertidal, so there’s a huge number of eyes out there,” said Raimondi. “We wanted to take advantage of this by accepting observations from the public to add detail to our knowledge of the spread.”
The website includes a form [link] that guides volunteers in reporting their observations to pay attention to data that matters for understanding where the syndrome is occurring. With these data, Raimondi and his team created a map that is the go-to source of information about the extent and spread of wasting disease across the U.S. West Coast.
A year after this epidemic has wiped most sea stars from rocky shores and subtidal reefs of the West Coast, it’s time for Raimondi’s team to collect different kinds of information to better understand the longevity of the syndrome and track whether sea stars begin to return to our coast. In this case, the team is looking for established volunteer groups to set up a long-term monitoring site in partnership with their local MARINe/PISCO researcher.
“The need for documenting the scale and timing of the outbreak has diminished,” explains Raimondi. “We’re now developing a new protocol focuses on documenting evidence of sea star population recovery.”
Learning how to document recovery, such as spotting and identifying baby sea stars, is more difficult than recording and identifying sick adults. To ensure that the data are accurate, the website includes detailed instructions. For long-term monitoring MARINe/PISCO staff will provide training to aid in finding and identifying baby sea stars that may be hiding within the cracks and crevasses and among seaweeds. Citizen science participation is not just about getting the community involved; monitoring sea star recovery at such a large spatial scale requires all hands on deck.
So do you have a group that wants to get involved? To tidepool or dive for a purpose? Check out the website to learn what kinds of observations are required and who your local contacts are.Raimondi suggests that monthly observations are ideal, but any information is helpful, especially from more remote areas where there are fewer people to keep an eye on the sea stars.
Contributions to the map are also still helpful, and reports of sick sea stars will continue to strengthen the data set that helps us understand the status and spread of wasting syndrome. And remember – if you go looking for sea stars and do find them, that’s very important data too. Let the team know [link] whether the sea stars at your spot are still thriving or have not fared so well.
As a reminder, here are all the different ways to get involved:
– if you spot an adult, report it here
– if you see babies, report them here
– if you have a group that wants to participate long-term, contact Rani Gaddam or Melissa Miner