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Students of the stars: students inspire a key study of the alarming decline of a starfish | Environment

Five years ago, a sixth-grade class in closed Arkansas heard of the massive death of a starfish on the west coast and felt compelled to help.

The 11- and 12-year-olds chose the president to manage their fundraising. They cut off a paper starfish – more formally known as sea stars – and put them in for "adoption" for a $ 1 donation. They gave them names and personality traits, such as Cherry Bomb, which "wants to hang on her phone", "stones the style of the legs" and "she's really smart but not nervous". They sell t-shirts that read: "Save the sea fish".

"We have no ocean anywhere near," said now retired teacher Vicky Bailey. "The students knew they would never go to the coast, they would probably never see this kind of starfish, but they were so passionate about what was going on."

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When Dr Harvell, a marine professor of ecology and a researcher at Cornell University, received $ 400, or so that High School Carl Stewart in Conway gathered, she knew that money should go to something important.

"I almost cried, I was so touched. So I agreed with 400 dollars from my own, and then one of our donors put more money here, and this is basically funding that allowed us to do the initial research," said Harvell .

Flash ahead: Harvel and her co-authors release their study inspired by the seed of children. Cornell and the University of California, Davis, publish their work in the journal Science Advances.

The campaign does not save the starfish. Findings are awesome. But researchers now know much more about the scope of death after analyzing data from trained recreational and professional divers and deep offshore tracks.

Marine starburst disease affected by more than 20 species from Mexico to Alaska. Some species resist the disease better, others have evolved to survive.

At the time of the appearance, the videos showed the beaches covered with the hands of a dead starfish, the internal organs spilled through lesions, recalls Harvel.

"This is [one of] the most extensive disease epidemic in wildlife[s] we have ever recorded because it's so many species in such a massively wide geographical area, "said Harvel.

The effect was particularly bad for a sunflower star, a creature of 3-4 degrees, which could have as many as two dozen weapons. The Sunflower star "descends through the seabed as a robotic vacuum cleaner, bothering everything along its path," as described by Cornell's media team.

The Sunflower Sea Stars, which live only on the west coast of North America, have now almost disappeared from the waters outside of California, Oregon and Washington.

Previous research suggests that with warm temperatures associated with climate change, the illness that consumes is a higher risk of infection and more rapidly kills starfish. A new study reveals that the appearance of the virus between sunflower sea stars coincided with abnormally hot water.

And the disappearance of the species has cascading effects on the ecosystem.

Sunflower sea stars have once kept the population of sea urchins under control, but now the numbers of the limbs are exploding, which led to shelters where they swallowed the seaweed sites to the valley of the pink sea beneath them.

Although the species is endangered at less than 48, they do little better in British Columbia and in some places in Alaska, said Harvell. Researchers will need to understand whether a sunflower starfish can repatriate if the disease ever leaves the west coast waters.

"It's really important to do something," said Harvel. "It's not an issue we previously dealt with, so I do not have an immediate suggestion of what we will do. I think we should definitely call a group of scientists and really discuss this issue and which are the highest priorities."

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