Saturday, November 7, 2009

50,000 Dead Starfish Found on Irish Beach

50,000 dead starfish found on Irish beach.

Tens of thousands of starfish have been ripped from the ocean floor and left strewn across a sheltered beach in Ireland. The pink and mauve echinoderms, a family of marine animals which includes starfish, brittle stars, sea urchins, sand dollars, sea cucumbers, and feather stars, appeared the morning of November 6, on Lissadell Beach in north County Sligo. The adults measured between 7 cm - 20 cm (2.8in - 8in) in diameter and were estimated to be up to 50,000 in number. The dead were stretched along 150m (492 ft) of the strand.

Marine biologist and lecturer at Sligo Institute of Technology, Bill Crowe, speculated that they had been lifted up by a storm while feeding on mussel beds off shore.

"The most likely explanation is that they were feeding on mussels but it is a little strange that none of them were attached to mussels when they were washed in," he said.

He went on to say that if they had died as a result of a "red tide" or "algal bloom" then other affected sealife would have been washed ashore with them.

"These were almost all adult size and the typical starfish variety that is found in the North Atlantic; but, there was nothing else mixed in with them," he said.

Tim Roderick, District Conservation Officer with the National Parks and Wildlife Service, agreed the phenomenon was most likely caused by recent bad weather.

"They turned up almost certainly as a result of an exceptional storm event. A storm hit the seabed where these sub-tidal animals were and lifted them up and washed them ashore," he said.

A spokesperson for the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government said that investigations were continuing into how they came to be washed ashore; but, initial indications pointed to stormy weather. There has been alot of stormy weather in the northeast of Ireland in recent days which is probably the cause of this unusual beaching.

In a similar episode earlier this year, thousands of dead starfish washed ashore on Youghal Beach in County Cork. Scientists speculated that they, too, had been thrown on to the beach by an underflow, which was probably caused by a storm at sea.

Via Friends of the Irish Environment and Cause 2.

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