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Scientists Are Breeding Sea Stars in a Lab to Rehabilitate Warming Oceans

Climate change helped to kill most of the world’s sunflower sea stars. Resurrecting them could revive carbon dioxide-sequestering kelp forests.

Researchers at University of Washington’s Friday Harbor Laboratories are working to repopulate the ocean with captive-bred sunflower sea stars after a disease magnified by a warming ocean killed nearly 91% of the global population that stretched from Mexico to Alaska.

Researchers at University of Washington’s Friday Harbor Laboratories are working to repopulate the ocean with captive-bred sunflower sea stars after a disease magnified by a warming ocean killed nearly 91% of the global population that stretched from Mexico to Alaska.

Photographer: Chona Kasinger for Bloomberg Green

In an island laboratory off the coast of Washington State, scientists are bringing back to life a gorgeously ferocious predator that suddenly perished amid a climate change-driven marine heat wave seven years ago.

A disease magnified by a warming ocean killed an estimated 5.75 billion sunflower sea stars between 2013 and 2017 — nearly 91% of the global population that stretched from Mexico to Alaska. Now an initiative that is breeding the sea star in captivity for the first time may be the best chance to revive both the species and carbon dioxide-sequestering kelp forests also decimated by climate change.