UW School of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences Seminar

Turning up the Heat on Marine Disease from Seagrasses to Seastars Infectious disease outbreaks in the oceans are fueled by increasing human activities, but especially a warming ocean and linkages with climate change. I’ll talk about our work with ecologically important disease outbreaks at the bottom and top of marine ecosystems. Disease outbreaks rapidly remove vast areas of live tissue in plants and animals that create critical ocean habitats, such as eelgrass meadows and coral reefs. Our research, based in the San Juan Islands, shows large impacts from a seagrass infectious disease, linked with warming events. I’ll describe our new project, monitoring the health of eelgrass beds from San Diego to Alaska. The large impacts of disease are imperiling a habitat that itself has the capacity to detoxify waters polluted by pathogenic bacteria. In other work, at the top of the food chain, an ongoing epidemic imperils keystone starfish predators and was fueled in the early stages by a warming ocean. The loss of the large subtidal star, Pycnopodia helianthoides is contributing to population explosions of urchins and devastated kelp beds.

Drew Harvell’s research on the health and sustainability of marine ecosystems has taken her from the reefs of Mexico, Indonesia, and Hawaii to the cold waters of the Pacific Northwest and has resulted in over 170 academic articles in journals such as Science, Nature, and Science Advances. She is a Fellow of the Ecological Society of America and the Atkinson Center for a Sustainable Future; has received the Seattle Aquarium Conservation Researcher of 2020, the NW Yachting Magazine Outstanding Environmental Leadership Award 2020, and the Society of American Naturalists Jasper Loftus-Hills Award; and is on the board of Friday Harbor Marine Labs. Harvell is passionate about communicating science. In addition to her new book, Ocean Outbreak (winner of the Prose Award and others), and her earlier book, A Sea of Glass (winner of the National Outdoor Book Award and Honorable Mention Rachel Carson Award), her writing appears in The New York Times, CNN and The Hill.