At the Friday Harbor Laboratories, recovery is afoot. Scientists at this University of Washington facility in the San Juan Islands are working to help sunflower stars — a type of sea star — grow and thrive once again after their populations along the West Coast were devastated by a mysterious disease.

“They’re gone in a lot of places, and a lot of what we’re doing here is testing out ideas for reintroduction,” said Jason Hodin, a researcher at the lab. 

The outbreak of this syndrome, the cause of which is still unknown, has led scientists like Hodin to study how to help sea stars get a leg up — or more accurately, an arm up. In partnership with The Nature Conservancy, Hodin and his team have pioneered methods to rear sunflower stars in the laboratory. Sunflower stars were particularly hard hit by sea star wasting syndrome, and they play an especially critical role as predators in marine ecosystems. Hodin’s team wanted to learn whether lab-raised stars could be introduced successfully into the wild to boost their numbers.  

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