Baby starfish are coming back to tide pools on the Pacific Coast in huge numbers after a disease nearly killed off the entire population.
The mass die-off of the stars on the West Coast, which was first observed in 2014, was due to what scientists called "sea star wasting disease."
The stars "developed twisted arms, then showed deflation and lesions, and eventually lost arms and the ability to grip onto the substrate before finally disintegrating completely," according to a statement from Oregon State University.
The disease eventually reduced the overall sea star population by 63-84%, while one species was reduced by 80-99%.
Scientists believe the disease has a "multi-faceted cause," with ocean acidification one theory experts are exploring.
But researchers announced this weej that baby stars from Alaska to Baja California are now not just being born, but are suddenly thriving at an "unprecedented" level.
"They just had an extraordinary survival rate into the juvenile stage," the study's lead author Bruce Menge said. "Whether they can make it into adulthood and replenish the population without succumbing to sea star wasting disease is the big question."
The baby stars are likely growing so well because there is a surplus of food for them after the deaths of so many adult stars, OSU researchers said.
The researchers believe the changes could have a huge impact on the region as a whole.
"The longer-term ecological consequences of this [disease] event could include wholesale elimination of many low zone species and a complete change in the zonation patterns of rocky intertidal communities along the West Coast of North America," the OSU team said.