04/02/2015 06:18 EDT | Updated 06/02/2015 05:59 EDT

Dying West Coast sea stars inspire U.S. politician's new marine bill

A wasting syndrome that's killed millions of sea stars in B.C. has prompted a Washington state politician to introduce a bill to speed up federal agency response times to marine disease outbreaks.

The new bill was driven by the entire West Coast's difficulty in containing the starfish disease, which initially manifests as lesions on their bodies, before their organs and arms fall off. It eventually turns their bodies to mush.

Democrat Congressman Denny Heck says while sea stars are integral in maintaining a balanced complex ecosystem, they also play an important role in the lives of many people growing up near the ocean.

"Who among us as a small child did not walk on a beach and pick up a sand dollar and a sea star and wide-eye gaze at it in wonderment at what this creature was?"

The Marine Disease Emergency Act would enable federal agencies to deploy resources quicker when there is any marine disease outbreak.

"Currently the U.S government has no means for doing that, strange as it may sound," said Heck.

"Our federal agencies are not allowed to collaborate to the optimum degree unless they are given the legal authority to do so."

If the bill is passed, $12 million would be allocated to research and an emergency fund for dealing with outbreaks. Heck says it will also benefit Canada's waters because marine disease outbreaks can spread between the two countries.

"The sea star doesn't care about these borders and neither should we."

To listen to the full interview with Rep. Denny Heck, listen to the audio labelled Sea star wasting disease.