Ochre sea stars

Ochre sea stars cling to a set of intertidal rocks in Cannon Beach.

Negative tide cycles are set to continue throughout fall on the North Coast, inviting favorable conditions for visiting tide pools. Among the creatures on view, dwelling among rocky outcrops, are colorful ochre sea stars, resting in hues of brown, orange and purple.

As keystone predators, the presence of ochre stars indicates a healthy tide pool, limiting the overgrowth of other residents like mussels.

But while visitors may count hundreds of sea stars, piling on top of one another, at popular sites like Haystack Rock, they’re facing an uncertain future across the Northwest.

Nearly all sea star species found in the region, including the mottled star, ochre star, sunflower star and vermillion star, have in recent years been affected by an ailment known as sea star wasting disease.

Reports of the disease, which has caused masses of stars to decay and disintegrate, stretch back for decades. However, until recently, cases appeared only in single, localized groups. Some seven or eight years ago, a large outbreak of the disease threatened entire species.

Commercial sea star harvesting in Oregon has since been banned. Now, a new rule, in effect as of March, prohibits recreational fishers from taking home the intertidal creatures, a delicate reminder of a changing coastline.

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