Marine life takes a battering from winter storms

Richard Harrington By: Richard Harrington
Date posted: 5 March 2018

The late winter weather conditions that have brought high winds and heavy snow to the UK have marine life in shallow waters around the East of the country. Post storm cleanup(Bex Lynam/ Yorkshire Wildlife Trust)

At Fraisthorpe, East Yorkshire, volunteers with the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust helped pick up several hundred lobsters and other surviving animals amongst fish such as ballan wrasse and ling, clams, bryozoans, anemones and thousands of starfish. Most lobster were smaller specimens, although some larger ones, including berried (with eggs) females were found - these will be returned to the water in calmer conditions. The remains of a long-dead harbour porpoise also washed up here. In Kent, the sheer number of common starfish washed on the beach have made headlines. The beach at Ramsgate is littered with heaps of them, with some anemones and other life amongst them.

Post storm berried lobster (Bex Lynam/ Yorkshire Wildlife Trust)

There are several reports of seals, dead or injured, around the coast. And it is likely that we will be finding much more along the coast of the southern North Sea and English channel.

The cause appears to be a combination of the extreme cold (where shallow water has frozen, or come close to freezing) and the depth at which storm waves have penetrated. UK marine life is usually well-suited to cope with cold. Soft bodied anemones thrive in fast-moving currents, and crab and lobster tend to move from the shore into deeper water to avoid storms. Most animals become slow moving, even torpid when cold, so would have little opportunity to escape tempestuous waves. The southen North Sea is particularly shallow, so there may have been few “safe” sites to take shelter in.

Post storm debris mussels(Bex Lynam/ Yorkshire Wildlife Trust)

We regularly see mass strandings of seabed-dwelling animals after storms, usually in Winter, sometimes several times in a year. This year, the “Beast from the East” combined with heavy seas stirred up by ‘Emma’ appears to be one of the biggest mass strandings on record for the UK.

If you’re out on the beach - keep a look out!

We will update this page when we receive more reports.

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