VANCOUVER (NEWS1130) – Researchers say nuclear pollution from the 2011 earthquake in Japan that damaged the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant could be partially to blame for a disease wiping out starfish along the West Coast.

Dr. Peter Raimondi of the University of Santa Cruz says something is making starfish susceptible to whats believed to be a bacteria coined “Wasting Disease.” It essentially disintegrate the marine invertebrates into a white goo, after the starfish loses its legs.

He says what’s making sea stars unable to fight off the bacteria could be anything from warm water to toxins–but Raimondi also says scientists can’t rule out nuclear pollution, especially in light of the tsunami that followed the 2011 earthquake.

It washed large amounts of debris to our shores–and Raimondi says nuclear pollution could have come with that.

“One of the byproducts is obviously nuclear radiation discharge. The second thing is debris, tons of debris, which has shown up especially on the North West Coast,” he adds.

Radiation or not, he says good work is being done to figure out what’s decimating the starfish population, and researchers should have a more definite idea of what’s going on in the next month to six weeks. Part of that is tracking the outbreak, and that’s where he says you can help.

Raimondi encourages anyone who’s seen signs of the disease–starfish without legs, or decomposing into a white goo–should report the sightings to the Starfish Wasting Disease tracker.

“This is a really neat opportunity for citizen science… It’s really been helpful [to get those citizen observations]… we’re trying to figure out if it’s a single point of initiation that spread, or multiple points of initiation because that will really be helpful in understanding what the delivery mechanism is,” says Raimondi.

The disease was first spotted in Washington State in June but has since spread all the way to Alaska and California.