URI scientists leading effort to identify why starfish are dying

20130723StarfishDelSestoWhen University of Rhode Island graduate student Caitlin DelSesto collected starfish in Narragansett Bay for an undergraduate research project in 2011, she was surprised to watch as the animals appeared to melt and die in her tank within a week. After bringing it to the attention of URI Professor Marta Gomez-Chiarri, she learned it was among the first observations of a new disease that is now affecting starfish – also called sea stars – from New Jersey to Maine.
The big question the scientists are asking is what triggered the disease. Was it a lack of nutrients available following a population explosion? What role does climate change play? Are changing environmental conditions altering the food chain? Is the disease an indication of other problems?