Divers search for clues to an epidemic killing millions of starfish

As dawn approaches, teams load oxygen tanks, wetsuits and underwater cameras into vans and trucks. A motor boat is set on a trailer, and students prepare measuring tape and clipboards — an urgent expedition is underway. At first light, the team of researchers heads down the coast from the University of California Santa Cruz to Monterey Bay.

For months, marine biologist Pete Raimondi and his team have been diving in these waters, searching for clues to an epidemic called starfish wasting syndrome. The mysterious disease has decimated starfish populations in the coastal waters and tide pools along the West Coast, from Alaska to Southern California. In some cases, 95 percent of the sea star population has been wiped out.

The infection starts with a small, white lesion that quickly spreads and consumes the animal, often overnight.

“What you’ve got is just a mass of tissue that’s decomposing, sometimes turning into this goo-like mass underwater,” Raimondi said.

NBC News’ footage of Raimondi’s dive reveals a dire situation. Droves of infected starfish with missing limbs, falling apart before one’s eyes. Still, Raimondi says, what’s most worrisome is what one doesn’t see. Two species that used to thrive in Monterey Bay have already vanished.

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About jensera

Jennifer Harrington is a Toronto-based illustrator, writer and graphic designer. She illustrated the best-selling children’s book series 'A Moose in a Maple Tree,' which includes the titles 'A Moose in a Maple Tree,' 'The Night Before a Canadian Christmas' and 'Canadian Jingle Bells.' She is also the owner of JSH Graphics, a boutique graphic design agency that specializes in print and web advertising. With her latest project, Eco Books 4 Kids, Jennifer has partnered with illustrator Michael Arnott to create a series of ecologically-themed ebooks for children. Her next book, 'Spirit Bear,' is due for release in the Summer of 2013. Jennifer offers two different school presentations for her 'Moose in a Maple Tree' collection, an illustration demonstration and a Christmas concert series, which can be booked at www.amooseinamapletree.com. She will be taking bookings for school readings of 'Spirit Bear' beginning in October 2013.

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