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Tens Of Thousands Of Starfish Are Washing Up On This Beach

“I've never seen anything like it in my life.”

Toward the end of February, an onslaught of unseasonably cold winter weather, known as “The Beast from the East,” swept through England by way of Siberia. The temperature drop was followed by Storm Emma, which battered the UK and Ireland with blizzards and freezing rain, closing schools, grounding flights and claiming 10 lives.

The freezing temperatures and high winds have been responsible for yet another unfortunate casualty in England: Tens of thousands of starfish have been washing up along South East England’s coastline, their arms curled and frozen. On beaches in Ramsgate, Kent, the marine life blanketing the shore obscured even the sand.

In what experts believe to be one of the largest mass strandings in UK history, the stormy weather and sudden drop in sea temperatures caused by the extreme weatherfront have brought not only starfish, but crabs, sea urchins, lobster and fish out of the water.

We regularly see mass strandings of seabed-dwelling animals after storms, usually in winter, sometimes several times in a year,” Richard Harrington, head of communications for the Marine Conservation Society, wrote in a press release. “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.”

It’s no coincidence that the Arctic is experiencing one of its warmest winters on record, while Europe is blanketed in snow. According to the World Meteorological Organization, the extreme weather conditions that England has faced over the past week are a direct result of warming over the North Pole. The cold spell is not supposed to break and return to normal until mid-March, according to The UK Met Office.

The upsetting vista of languishing marine life on England’s shores has sparked fear and wonder in seaside residents and fishermen. “It has been an amazing phenomenon all along the coast here,” Lorraine Williams, an East Kent resident, told The Dodo. “I've never seen anything like it in my life.”

While the shocking images of beaches filled with dead sea creatures have started trending on social media, a sea life dump is not entirely unexpected after a severe storm system blows through.

Starfish strandings such as this one are not unusual, and occur to a greater or lesser degree every year,” Andrew Cabrinovic, the Natural History Museum's curator of echinoderms, said in a press release. “However, strandings on this scale do not happen often.”

It is believed that the strong winds and tides are to blame for displacing the marine life that call the soft sandysea floors home. Luckily, representatives with the Natural History Museum believe that England’s population of common starfish is healthy enough, and have a rate of reproduction fast enough, to bounce back.

To help save marine wildlife, you can make a donation to the Marine Conservation Society.