Cape storms decimate starfish

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The storms which have lashed the Western Cape have not only claimed the lives of people, but thousands of starfish too.

SANDY GRAVE: Dead starfish on Sunrise Beach near Muizenberg. Pic: Jeremy Daniel

The dead tiny sea creatures resembled a brown blanket spread across Sunrise Beach near Muizenberg where they were washed up in the wake of last week’s deadly storm.

The beaching generally happens when a storm sends currents through their habitats and dislodges them from where they eat.

Juliana Weiss-Roessler, who develops online learning materials related to animals and pets, said: “Starfish tend to feed on molluscs, whose beds are typically in shallow water.

“Millions of starfish will congregate around mussel beds at any time and when strong currents pass through these habitats during a storm, starfish can be lifted away from their meal and carried to the shore.”

She said although its name suggests it can swim, “the starfish is a weak swimmer”.

Instead “it typically crawls from surface to surface” and does particularly well in rocky areas. “If the ocean current is strong enough, the starfish will drift, unable to control where it travels.”

The last time Cape Town saw this phenomenon was in June 2015, when thousands of starfish washed up in False Bay.

Conservationist Lesley Rochat said at the time the starfish were in the process of spawning when they were pushed on to the shore by upwelling and trapped inshore on the rocks.

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