Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, March 15, 2023


Miyoko Sakashita, (510) 845-6703,

Sunflower Sea Star Proposed for Endangered Species Act Protection

Species Has Declined 90% From Disease, Warming

SAN FRANCISCO— Responding to a petition by the Center for Biological Diversity, the National Marine Fisheries Service proposed today to protect imperiled sunflower sea stars as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.

“Protection under the Endangered Species Act will be so important for reviving these incredible sea stars,” said Miyoko Sakashita, oceans program director at the Center. “Disease fueled by climate change has devastated this gorgeous species, and these safeguards will help tackle threats to their survival and promote the health of the kelp forests they live in.”

Since 2013, 90% of the Pacific population of these sea stars has been lost to the gruesome and disfiguring sea star wasting disease. The disease outbreak is being driven by climate change, with warmer oceans making the effects more severe and deadly.

Sunflower sea stars — who have up to 24 arms, can be a meter wide, and come in a variety of bright colors — live along shorelines from Southern California to southern Alaska. They’re voracious predators whose consumption of sea urchins helps prevent the overgrazing of kelp forests, maintaining coastal ecosystems.

The sea star wasting disease outbreak is considered one of the largest marine epidemics, causing massive sea star mortality along the West Coast. The disease is a gruesome killer, causing lesions, contortions, lost limbs, disintegration and death. Sunflower sea stars have never recovered from being nearly wiped out by the disease and are now classified as critically endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. Ocean acidification is also a threat to the species.

The Service is requesting public comments on the listing for the next 60 days and will finalize the listing in a year.

A listing will help reduce threats from water pollution, dredging, shoreline armoring and other coastal development projects that might push the species toward extinction.

Photo of the sunflower sea star is available for media use. Credit: NPS Image is available for media use.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.7 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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