The Starfish Are Melting

Millions of sea stars have disappeared due to Sea Star Wasting Disease. This oceanic disaster has dire implications for the health of tide pool environments and the ocean.

" Sending Out an S.O.S - Melting Sea Star Series II" Mary Kay Neumann 30x22 watercolor

"Sending Out an S.O.S- Melting Sea Star Series II" Mary Kay Neumann 30x22 watercolor

T H E  

S T A R F I S H  

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Many years ago, I was approached by a sunflower sea star (commonly called starfish) as I walked in the shallow waters of a low tide. This creature moves rapidly (compared to most tidepool creatures) and as it came closer I stood still as a statue. This little beauty touched my shoe, my pant leg, and as I stood, mesmerized, it felt around my entire leg before finally moving away into the shallows and the kelp, disappearing into the ocean that it came from. My heart was completely, totally given over.

As an artist, I have loved the sunflowers of Van Gogh for decades, and have been painting them with abandon for 20 years. So discovering another kind of sunflower that lived in the tidepool landscape was serendipitous. A 24-legged starfish that moved rapidly, that was orange, purple, hot pink, and yellow, with 15,000 delicate suction-cupped tube feet was an animal that was an artist's dream come true. That it actually approached me on that beautiful low-tide April morning was one of the most beautiful moments of my life.

When I traveled to the West Coast in April 2015, I visited the tidepools hoping to commune with the sea stars. While looking out over the mussel beds that should have been covered with hundreds of purple sea stars, I was joined by a woman who lived nearby. She mentioned how beautiful it was to see the tidepools. I asked her, "Do you notice anything missing?" She stopped for a few moments and looked around and said, "Where are the starfish?"

Sea stars are dying by the millions. Between 2013-2014 , 90% of the sea star population from Alaska to Mexico has died. Mortality rates have far exceeding anything every recorded and scientists have confirmed that warming temperatures played a part in what's being called the single largest, most-geographically widespread marine disease on record. Sea Star Wasting Disease is killing the sunflower sea star and most other species of sea stars. They first develop lesions, then begin to lose arms, collapse into themselves and literally dissolve into a gooey substance. Previously covering the ocean floor with their beautiful bodies, they are now actually melting. Their disappearance is disastrous to the tidepool environment, because, at the top of the food chain, they keep many other species in check. Many seastars are"keystone species", and without them, particularly the sunflower sea stars, who reign over the other creatures in a tidepool, the sea urchin population has exploded in some areas. Sea urchins eat away at the kelp beds, which provide food and shelter to countless other marine animals and sea life.

I have challenged myself to depict these creatures during a time of crises for them...while they are melting. These paintings are dedicated to the beautiful sunflower sea stars that have died in the millions.

"All things are one thing and that one thing is all things...plankton, a shimmering phosphorescence on the sea and the spinning planets and expanding universe, all bound together by the elastic string of time. It is advisable to look from the tidepool to the stars and back to the tidepool again." -John Steinbeck Sea of Cortez

I  donate 10% of sales of my sea star and tidepool related artwork to the Rocky Intertidal Lab at UC Santa Cruz (specifically to the "Sea Star Wasting Research in the lab of Peter Raimondi"). Supporting their ongoing efforts in long-term monitoring of the Sea Star Wasting Disease is crucial. It is my hope that the root cause of this ocean calamity is discovered and solutions to help in their recovery can occur before it is too late. 


I hope you care

For more information about Sea Star Wasting Disease, please visit :

Sea Star Wasting Disease: The experts speak

The Sea Stars Are Melting