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Starmageddon: As thousands of starfish wash up on our beaches

Carnage: Thousands of dead starfish at Sandwich Bay in Kent

Great Britain

Mass starfish strandings, or "wrecks", are not uncommon in Britain and typically happen once a year. But the scale of death visited upon the beaches of southern England in the past few weeks has stunned conservationists and prompted a major investigation into what could be killing so many marine animals. It had been assumed - hoped, even - that the deaths were the result of freak weather or unusual tides outside the control of people. Some of the deaths undoubtedly were. But experts now believe the slaughter which has blighted Kent and Sussex is also the result of human activity - more particularly, the intensive fishing for mussels. Starfishes' ideal feeding ground is a mussel bed, where millions of starfish will congregate at any one time. And it's here where they are most at risk. Violent storms can send terrifically strong currents through the mussel beds where they are feeding, pluck them off their prey, carry them to the shore and dump thousands at a time onto a beach. After last week's ferocious storms, hundreds of common starfish were found washed ashore at Black Rock in Brighton. "Once out of the water, they die. But in Kent, thousands of starfish were washed ashore long BEFORE the storms." The Environment Agency now believes that dredgers - the kind used to scrape the sea floor for mussels - were almost certainly to blame.

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