Signs recently emerged along the Oregon coast that the critically endangered sunflower sea star may be making a comeback.
Staff with the Oregon Coast Aquarium discovered 25 of the species along the sandy floor of Yaquina Bay in Newport.
Sunflower sea star populations were decimated by Sea Star Wasting Syndrome between 2013 and 2017. The aquarium said similar outbreaks had taken place in the past, but none had the impact of this one. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration estimates 90% of the sunflower sea star population was lost to the disease.
“To come across not one, but 25 sunflower stars?” said Aquarist Tiffany Rudek. “It’s incredible. It’s unprecedented. I am so excited about what this could mean for the species.”
The first of the stars that aquarium staff found measured three inches across and had 12 arms. When fully grown, it will reach up to four feet across and have 26 arms.
The largest of the 25 stars measured six inches across. Aquarium staff think this could be the adult that spawned the others, but there is no way to be sure.
After each one was photographed and documented, they were returned to the sea floor.
The aquarium said this concentration of juvenile sunflower stars may be a precursor of the species’ recovery, but only time will tell.
The aquarium says sunflower sea stars play an important role in keeping urchin populations under control and prevent the destruction of offshore kelp forests — an area vital for marine life.
The sea stars are native to the northeast Pacific Ocean.