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This Beer Was Brewed to Save Sea Stars

A new ale sends some proceeds to research on sea star wasting syndrome

Healthy ochre sea stars (Pisaster ochraceus) (Norbert Wu/Minden Pictures/Corbis)
smithsonian.com

Some may have had their fill of gimmicky beers — those brews cultured with beard yeast or sprinkled with Moon rocks — but what about a weird libation that could actually be useful? The same brewery responsible for the beard yeast beer, Rouge Ales in Oregon, has just released an ale to raise awareness about a disease killing millions of sea stars.

For the last few years, researchers have noticed that a disease is running rampant among sea stars along the Pacific coast. The illness causes their arms to curl up and detach and their bodies to melt. A previously unknown virus gave rise to the "sea star wasting syndrome." 

It’s one of the largest marine animal die offs researchers have ever recorded and could have serious consequences for coastal ecosystems — the sea stars are important predators that keep other animals in check. Perhaps to keep beer drinkers from getting too gloomy about melting sea stars, the ale has a fun name: "Wasted Sea Star Purple Pale Ale." It’s brewed using purple corn nectar to give it a violet hue like Pisaster ochraceus, ochre sea stars, which are often killed by the disease.

Though a virus has been figured as the culprit, scientists still have a lot of questions about why these animals are dying. Take a few outlined online by the evolutionary biology department at the University of California, Santa Cruz:

We don’t know whether the syndrome spreads sequentially from one species to the next, or if some species simply take longer to express symptoms, but the usually large populations of ochre and sunflower stars have experienced massive, geographically expansive (if patchy) and well-documented declines. Other species are less abundant, so the impact of the syndrome is not as clear.

The new brew aims to help fund researchers seeking the answers some of those questions. "A portion of the proceeds from the sale of this beer will go towards the research of Sea Star Wasting Syndrome conducted by the Partnership for Interdisciplinary Studies of Coastal Ocean," announces a press release from Rouge Ales. The organization, abbreviated as PISCO, is a long-term research and monitoring program involving researchers from UC Santa Cruz, Stanford University, UC Santa Barbara and Oregon State University (OSU).

A PhD student working on sea star wasting at OSU named Jenna Sullivan, apparently pitched Rogue Ales the idea, reports Alex Warneke at Deep Sea News. Sullivan told Warneke:

My boyfriend’s parents visited town from Indiana, so naturally we took them to the coast. While we were there we went to Rogue brewery for lunch and I told them the most recent developments in our research. We thought it would be really cool if Rogue developed a “wasted sea star” brew, and I knew that Rogue had done fundraising work for scientific causes before (eg their Monk Seal Ale, where proceeds benefit the Waikiki Aquarium’s work with those endangered seals). I sent them an email pitching the idea and they liked it!

Hopefully some answers start rolling in (perhaps fueled in one way or another by some purple pale ale). Then the brewery can move onto sea urchins, who are also experiencing unusual die-offs.

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