(CNN) — Thousands of dead starfish have washed up on British beaches in what has been dubbed “starfish Armageddon” following last week’s unseasonably cold weather.
A beach in Kent in southeastern England was covered with starfish and other marine life after last week’s “Beast from the East” cold snap joined forces with Storm Emma, causing high winds and sending temperatures plunging below zero.
“It is not until you see it for yourself that you can appreciate the scale and numbers of dead sea life washed up on the beach,” Keith Ross, an eyewitness, told CNN. “The locals have never seen anything like it.”
Ross said the sub-zero weather from Siberia had a direct effect on marine creatures. “That has killed lots of wildlife including sea birds like gannets,” he added.
Ross, a birdwatcher, estimated that there were “tens of thousands” of starfish on one section of the beach.
Lara Maiklem, who lives on the Kent coast, said the sheer size of the event was shocking. “There were thousands upon thousands of starfish, with crabs, sea urchins, fish and sea anemones mixed in with them. Someone even found a lobster,” she said. “It was shocking and sad. I’ve never seen anything like it, almost biblical in scale.”
“They covered the shore in a thick blanket. Most of the starfish were dead, but quite a few crabs were still alive and we tried to rescue as many as we could,” she added.
Causes are uncertain
Kent wasn’t the only place affected. The Wildlife Trusts noted another mass stranding in Yorkshire, where dead marine animals from the North Sea were “ankle-deep in places.”
According to researchers from Plymouth University, starfish rolling along the seabed in a sphere shape, a term known as “starballing,” might provide clues to why they are prone to being stranded en masse during strong weather conditions.
“At this point, we simply cannot say whether the starballing individuals were swept off the seabed by the strong tidal flow, or if the individuals allowed themselves to be transported,” said Emma Sheehan, a senior research fellow at Plymouth University’s Marine Institute, said. “It’s a hypothesis we will be looking to test in the future.”
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