Since April 2013, a deadly—and unexplained—wasting syndrome has devastated the entire sea star population from British Columbia to Baha California and in turn imperiled the fragile tidal ecosystem. The disease reached Oregon in April 2014, affecting around 50 percent of Fogarty Creek’s sea star population. The total population has dwindled to a fifth of what it was. The symptoms are gruesome: Some develop lesions and become abnormally soft. They begin to disintegrate; their arms detach from their central disc and crawl away on their own. Tissue regeneration is nearly impossible. All of this occurs within two weeks. Scientists still don’t know what causes this fatal unraveling, or how the disease spreads. But they do know that time is running short for some of the Pacific Coast’s most charismatic and ecologically important creatures.

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