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A purple ochre sea star's leg disintegrates as it dies from sea star wasting syndrome. Photo: Elizabeth Cerny-Chipman / Oregon State University

In Southern California, sea stars may be staging a comeback after a mysterious disease devastated populations and species across the West Coast, per the Orange County Register. Scientists in southern California report seeing adult stars in tide pools for the first time in years.

Why it matters: Sea Star Wasting Syndrome causes the animals to melt and dissolve in just a matter of days before they die, limbless. Sea stars are considered a 'keystone species', which means they play a bigger role in supporting their ecosystem that other species. When they're removed from their environment, biodiversity drops rapidly.

Yes, but: This is just one area, and this doesn't mean the disease is gone. A major outbreak is happening in the Salish Sea in Washington, and the disease appears to be persisting at low levels from North/Central California up through British Columbia.

Some good news: Across the coast, there's been an abundance of baby sea stars. This 'pulse', first identified a few years ago, appears to be growing, per a September report by UC Santa Cruz researchers. Although some juveniles show signs of the disease, researchers hope they'll prevent the populations from collapsing.

The history: Sea Star Wasting Syndrome first appeared in ochre stars off the coast of Washington in 2013, and spread to several species up and down the West Coast by 2015. Die-offs like this have happened in past decades, but only in isolated areas. There's never been a coast-wide die-off before.

What's happening: So far, scientists don't know if the disease is caused by a virus, a bacteria, or a combination thereof. Anecdotally, some sea stars seem to do better when treated with antibiotics, but that could be because virus-caused lesions are prone to infection. A USGS study found the illness was caused by something virus-sized, and other research has implicated densovirus.

Go deeper: The University of California, Santa Cruz maintains a database of sea star die-offs and issues reports several times a year.

Go deeper

Updated 20 mins ago - Politics & Policy

Omicron dashboard

Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

  1. Health: Coronavirus variant surveillance varies widely by state — Omicron cases confirmed in 5 U.S. states America probably won't lead the effort to understand Omicron.
  2. Vaccines: Omicron adds urgency to vaccinating world — Omicron fuels the case for COVID boosters — Moderna loses patent battles tied to COVID vaccine — Pfizer could have vaccine data for children under five by end of 2021, CEO says.
  3. Politics: Nevada to impose insurance surcharge on unvaccinated state workers — New Jersey GOP lawmakers defy statehouse COVID policy — Oklahoma sues Biden administration over Pentagon vaccine mandate — Omicron travel bans are sign of what's to come.
  4. World: WHO: Delta health measures help fight Omicron — COVID cases surge in South Africa in sign Omicron wave is coming — Germany approves new restrictions for unvaccinated people.
  5. Variant tracker: Where different strains are spreading.
Updated 5 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Prosecutors charge parents of Michigan school shooting suspect

Photo: Scott Olson/Getty Images

The parents of a 15-year-old accused of killing four students and wounding seven other people at a Michigan high school have been charged with four counts of involuntary manslaughter, according to court documents.

The latest: Lawyers for James and Jennifer Crumbley told the Detroit News they are "returning to the area to be arraigned," after law enforcement officials announced a search for the Crumbleys had been initiated.

10 hours ago - World

Putin to demand legal guarantee against NATO expansion in call with Biden

Biden and Putin meeting in Geneva in June. Photo: Mikhail Metzel\TASS via Getty Images

Russian President Vladimir Putin is demanding a legally binding guarantee that NATO will not expand east — including to Ukraine — and plans to raise the issue in an upcoming phone call with President Biden, according to the Kremlin.

Why it matters: Russia has massed more than 94,000 troops on the border with Ukraine and could be preparing for a large-scale invasion at the end of January, Ukraine's defense minister said Friday.