Moss Landing, CA

36.805314, -121.789005 

Restoring Sunflower Stars to Save California's Kelp

For more than a century, California's kelp forests have been steadily declining, a trend exacerbated by the disappearance of sunflower stars from our coastal ecosystems in 2013/14. Southern California has lost over half of its kelp cover in the last century, while Northern California has lost over 96% of its kelp cover in the last decade. There is an urgent need to restore ecosystem function to our kelp forest environments by keeping urchin grazing in check through the predation effects of sunflower stars.

Over the past few years, Sunflower Star Laboratory (SSL) has dedicated its efforts to enhancing sustainable conservation aquaculture techniques for echinoderm species. Their focus includes coordinating captive breeding initiatives for Pycnopodia helianthoides, commonly known as Sunflower Stars, aiming for sustainable sunflower star aquaculture.

SeaTrees has partnered with SSL to assist in long-term sustainable sunflower star aquaculture and research into their recovery to aid kelp forest restoration efforts. With your support, we are able to fund most of the laboratory operating costs during a year of rapid organizational development, enabling Sunflower Star Laboratory to settle and grow pycnopodia and other local echinoderms.

Population Decline

Sea Star Wasting Syndrome

In 2013, sea star wasting syndrome (SSWS) began devastating sea star populations along the west coast of North America, with sunflower stars (Pycnopodia helianthoides) becoming locally extinct in the shallow coastal waters where they served as a keystone predator, protecting kelp forests from overgrazing by urchins.

For the next 4 years, this significant outbreak of sea star wasting syndrome led to drastic declines in populations across various regions.

Understanding the impact of environmental stressors, including those linked to human-induced climate change, on disease risk remains a crucial area of research.

Why Sea Stars?

Project partner

Sunflower Star Laboratory

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