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Sea cucumber die-off near Vancouver Island prompts fears of wasting disease that nearly wiped out sea stars –



When Kathleen Reed descended for her usual weekly dive off the coast of Nanaimo, B.C., last Saturday she was shocked by how many dead sea cucumbers she saw.

Reed has completed more than 500 dives and says she’d never seen so many of the deep red echinoderms turned pale, limp and slimy.

“There were hundreds of them. They were just white and dead in various states of decay, littered all over the sea floor. It was shocking and really disturbing to see,” said Reed.

Experts and harvesters fear that sea cucumbers found off the coast of Vancouver Island are being hit by an illness similar to sea star wasting disease, which swept through the B.C. population in 2015 and 2016, killing 96 per cent of the creatures.

A healthy sunflower sea star sits on cold water coral formations in Puget Sound. Research shows 5.75 billion sea stars along the West Coast have died in recent years. (Greg Amptman/Shutterstock)

Sunflower sea stars were hit particularly hard. It’s estimated that some 5.7 billion sunflower sea stars died, bringing the species close to extinction. 

Symptoms first appeared as pale blotchy lesions or white spots on the skin and ended with the animal dissolving. 

The symptoms are similar to those now affecting sea cucumbers along the B.C. coast. 

Sea stars and sea cucumbers are both echinoderms or spiny-skinned creatures. While sea stars hunt, sea cucumbers are bottom feeders; they act like a garbage truck, eating organic detritus — or waste — found in the sea floor sediment.

Biologists are studying why hundreds of sea cucumbers appear to be dying off near the coast of Vancouver Island. Some fear the echinoderms have been stricken with a wasting disease similar to that which killed off billions of sea stars in the last decade. (Kathleen Reed)

Sea cucumbers perform an important ecological role and could help clean up aquaculture sites, according to Emaline Montgomery, a research scientist at the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans Pacific Biological Station in Nanaimo.

More study is needed to determine what’s causing this mass mortality event, but climate change is likely part of the explanation. 

Montgomery said that warmer water temperatures could play a role in stressing the animals, which may make them more susceptible to pathogens or viruses.

“Usually when sea cucumbers get stressed they might start to exhibit these bizarre symptoms where their outer body wall turns white. It gets kind of mucousy. It literally looks like their skin is disintegrating or melting,” she said.

A sea star consumes the remains of a sea cucumber that appears to be wasting or melting off the shores of Nanaimo, B.C. (Kathleen Reed)

Seven years ago, sea cucumber wasting was reported in Friday Harbour in Washington state and near Admiralty Island in Alaska. Since then it’s been noticed near one Washington aquaculture farm as well as in Howe Sound, near Sechelt, B.C.

A study last year led by Ian Hewson, a Cornell University biological oceanographer and expert in viruses of the sea, described an Alaskan outbreak.

Those sea cucumbers were stricken with “lesions and fissures and sloughing of epidermal tissues,” then rapid “liquefaction.”

Global market for sea cucumbers

Canada does about $30-million in sea cucumber trade. B.C. has about a one-third share of that market.

Thom Liptrot, president of the Pacific Sea Cucumber Harvesters Association, says divers pick the prickled creatures along about half the B.C. coast. 

B.C. has approved 85 licensed fishers who are allowed to take 16,000 pounds or 7,200 kilograms each, according to Liptrot.

Dried sea cucumber is shipped to China where it is used to treat everything from arthritis to heart disease and boost virility. Fresh sea cucumber can be flash-fried in garlic and butter and tastes “somewhere between a clam and a squid,” Liptrot said.

Otters and sea stars also enjoy eating sea cucumbers, which sometimes escape by rolling.

This sea cucumber has turned partially white instead of its usual deep brick-red hue. It’s not yet clear why this is happening. (Kathleen Reed)

Liptrot has had reports of dead sea cucumbers near Comox and Sechelt and now fears the elongated echinoderms are being hit by a wasting disease similar the one that nearly wiped out sea stars along the B.C. coast. 

“[The wasting disease] has been around a long time and it’s taken out sea cucumbers before — but never a mass extinction like the sun star,” he said.

‘If we lose the vacuum cleaners of the sea … we are in trouble’

Reed, an avid naturalist and diver, recalls seeing a few sea stars stricken with wasting disease, but said last Saturday’s discovery was more devastating. 

On her Aug. 28 dive Reed said that every sea cucumber she saw between the depths of 10 and 25 metres appeared dead. She checked three spots that day: Dolphin Beach, Tyee Cove and Wall Beach, near Parksville.

Hundreds of sea cucumbers stricken with some affliction appear to be turning white and dying off the coast near Nanaim,o all the way to Nanoose Bay and Parksville, B.C. (Kathleen Reed)

While Reed did see some mottled animals after the heat waves earlier this summer, she said they now appear to be “just kind of melting in place” and littering the sea from Madrona Point all the way to Blueback Community Park — spanning the entire Nanoose Bay Peninsula.

“It was really, really concerning. I don’t think I’ve ever been so concerned while diving. If those guys go — if we lose the vacuum cleaners of the sea — we are really in trouble,” she said. 

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Oldest human footprints in North America found in New Mexico – CTV News



Fossilized footprints discovered in New Mexico indicate that early humans were walking across North America around 23,000 years ago, researchers reported Thursday.

The first footprints were found in a dry lake bed in White Sands National Park in 2009. Scientists at the U.S. Geological Survey recently analyzed seeds stuck in the footprints to determine their approximate age, ranging from around 22,800 and 21,130 years ago.

The findings may shed light on a mystery that has long intrigued scientists: When did people first arrive in the Americas, after dispersing from Africa and Asia?

Most scientists believe ancient migration came by way of a now-submerged land bridge that connected Asia to Alaska. Based on various evidence — including stone tools, fossil bones and genetic analysis — other researchers have offered a range of possible dates for human arrival in the Americas, from 13,000 to 26,000 years ago or more.

The current study provides a more solid baseline for when humans definitely were in North America, although they could have arrived even earlier, the authors say. Fossil footprints are more indisputable and direct evidence than “cultural artifacts, modified bones, or other more conventional fossils,” they wrote in the journal Science, which published the study Thursday.

“What we present here is evidence of a firm time and location,” they said.

Based on the size of the footprints, researchers believe that at least some were made by children and teenagers who lived during the last ice age.

David Bustos, the park’s resource program manager, spotted the first footprints in ancient wetlands in 2009. He and others found more in the park over the years.

“We knew they were old, but we had no way to date the prints before we discovered some with (seeds) on top,” he said Thursday.

Made of fine silt and clay, the footprints are fragile, so the researchers had to work quickly to gather samples, Bustos said.

“The only way we can save them is to record them — to take a lot of photos and make 3D models,” he said.

Earlier excavations in White Sands National Park have uncovered fossilized tracks left by a saber-toothed cat, dire wolf, Columbian mammoth and other ice age animals.


The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

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Inspiration4 Lift Off: SpaceX Launches World’s First All-Citizen Mission in Earth’s Orbit –



Tampa, Florida (WFLA) — SpaceX made history on Wednesday night when it launched the world’s first all-civil mission to get going from the Space Coast, Florida.

The Inspiration4 mission took off from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center around 8:03 pm on Wednesday. The four crew members on the SpaceX Dragon spacecraft were launched onto a reusable Falcon 9 rocket and later separated from the spacecraft and landed on the drone.

The mission’s five-hour launch window began at 8:02 EST. The window was very large, as the crew was sent to orbit the Earth rather than the International Space Station, and therefore did not have such strict time constraints.

The crew is set to travel 350 miles above the surface of the Earth, about 100 miles higher than the International Space Station.

“This is important and historic, because it’s the best time humans have been in orbit since the Hubble Space Telescope mission,” said Benjireed, SpaceX’s manned spaceflight director.

(Photo provided by SpaceX)

The crew will spend three days in orbit to participate in research experiments on human health and performance. We hope that the results of our research will apply not only to future space flight, but also to human health here on Earth.

Inspiration4’s main goal is to provide and inspire support for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. They want to raise $ 200 million for St. Jude in a three-day mission.

According to SpaceX, each of the four members of the crew was chosen to represent the pillars of a mission of prosperity, generosity, hope and leadership. The Inspiration 4 crew and the pillars they represent are:

  • leadership: 38 years old Jared Isaacman – Founder and CEO of Shift4Payments
  • Hope: 29-year-old Haley Arseno – Doctor assistants and childhood cancer survivors treated with St. Jude
  • Generosity: 41 years old Chris Sembroski – Lockheed Martin US Air Force veteran and aerospace employee
  • prosperity: 51 years old Dr. Cyan Proctor – Entrepreneurs, educators, trained pilots, and the active voice of the space exploration community

SpaceX trained all four crew members as commercial astronauts on Falcon 9 and Dragon spacecraft. The crew was trained in orbital mechanics, microgravity, weightlessness, other stress tests, emergency preparedness, and spacesuit training.

The mission was funded by Isaacman in a private transaction with SpaceX. Isaacman has also invested $ 100 million towards a funding target for the St. Jude mission.

Inspiration4 Lift Off: SpaceX Launches World’s First All-Citizen Mission in Earth’s Orbit

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'Flying' microchips could ride the wind to track air pollution – Yahoo Movies Canada



Researchers have created a winged microchip around the size of a sand grain that may be the smallest flying device yet made, Vice has reported. They’re designed to be carried around by the wind and could be used in numerous applications including disease and air pollution tracking, according to a paper published by Nature. At the same time, they could be made from biodegradable materials to prevent environmental contamination. 

The design of the flyers was inspired by spinning seeds from cottonwood and other trees. Those fall slowly by spinning like helicopters so they can be picked up by the wind and spread a long distance from the tree, increasing the range of the species. 

The team from Northwest University ran with that idea but made it better, and smaller. “We think we’ve beaten biology… we’ve been able to build structures that fall in a more stable trajectory at slower terminal velocities than equivalent seeds,” said lead Professor John A. Rogers. “The other thing… was that we were able to make these helicopter flyer structures that are much smaller than seeds you would see in the natural world.”  

They’re not so small that the aerodynamics starts to break down, though. “All of the advantages of the helicopter design begin to disappear below a certain length scale, so we pushed it all the way, as far as you can go or as physics would allow,” Rogers told Vice. “Below that size scale, everything looks and falls like a sphere.”

The devices are also large enough to carry electronics, sensors and power sources. The team tested multiple versions that could carry payloads like antenna so that they could wireless communicate with a smartphone or each other. Other sensors could monitor things like air acidity, water quality and solar radiation. 

The flyers are still concepts right now and not ready to deploy into the atmosphere, but the team plans to expand their findings with different designs. Key to that is the use of biodegradable materials so they wouldn’t persist in the environment. 

“We don’t think about these devices… as a permanent monitoring componentry but rather temporary ones that are addressing a particular need that’s of finite time duration,” Rogers said. “That’s the way that we’re envisioning things currently: you monitor for a month and then the devices die out, dissolve, and disappear, and maybe you have to redeploy them.”

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