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'Beast From the East' Drives Sea Life Die-Off

Animals
London Mudlark / Facebook

March certainly came in like a lion in the UK and Ireland, as "the Beast from the East" brought freezing temperatures, up to 20 inches of snowfall and travel disruptions to the British Isles.

But what was disruptive for the region's human inhabitants was deadly for its marine life. Hundreds of thousands of lobsters, starfish, crabs and other creatures washed up dead or dying on beaches on the UK's eastern coast, Buzzfeed News reported Monday.


"There are places where you are ankle-deep, or calf-deep, in animals," Yorkshire Wildlife Trust worker Bex Lyman said.

The Yorkshire Wildlife Trust worked with local fisherman to separate live lobsters from the dead, with the aim of returning them to the ocean when the weather warms.

It's worth saving them so that they can be put back into the sea and continue to breed," Lyman told The Guardian.

Rodney Forster, a marine biologist at the University of Hull, told Buzzfeed he'd counted 24 types of fish so far.

Forster explained the cold is likely to blame. Ocean temperatures dropped from 5 to 2 degrees Celsius in less than a week. "For a lot of creatures, that really pushes them to their lower limits, especially the warm-water species ... we've seen washed up," he told Buzzfeed.

Waves caused by the storm, as well as high tides, also contributed.

Colleen Suckling, a lecturer in marine biology at Bangor University, wrote in The Conversation that this isn't the first time cold temperatures have caused sea-life die-offs, since they tend to make the animals lethargic.

Previous starfish die-offs occured on the coasts of Maryland in 1960, the Isle of Man in 1999, and Ireland in 2009.

"Starfish may be at particular risk of strandings after storms because of a behaviour known as "'starballing,'" Suckling wrote. Starballing is when the creatures will tuck in their arms to create a spherical shape, allowing currents to move them swiftly across the ocean floor. But during storms, the waves move them too far and strand them on beaches.

But while these events have happened before, the concern is that they might become more frequent due to climate change. As Futurism pointed out, global warming could lead to increases in the factors that led to the die-off: a polar vortex event bringing cold weather from the arctic and an intense storm.

For now, there's still plenty of work to do cleaning up from last week's disaster.

As Lyman tweeted on March 6, "That's it, there's nothing left alive to rescue. So now we clean up the #plasticpollution."

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