A starfish is born: hope for key species hit by gruesome disease

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US team succeeds in captive breeding of sunflower sea stars and aims to reintroduce them to the wild

Scientists in a San Juan Island laboratory in Washington state have successfully raised sunflower sea stars, or starfish, in captivity for the first time, in an effort to help save these charismatic ocean creatures from extinction.

Sunflower sea stars, whose colours vary widely, can grow as big as a bicycle wheel and have about 20 legs. They were once abundant in coastal waters from Alaska to Mexico, but since 2013, nearly 6 billion of these now critically endangered animals have died from a gruesome wasting disease linked to warming seas. Populations have plummeted by more than 90%.

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