Lissadell House and Gardens, Sligo, Ireland




On 5th November, 2009, thousands of dead and dying starfish were washed up on Lissadell beach in the shallow waters of Drufcliffe Bay, Sligo. The phenomenen, known as "wreck of starfish" is not unusal - in February of 2009 thousands were washed up on Youghal beach; and in March 2002 thousands of dead starfish were washed up on a beach in Norfolk, England.

Photograph (left) by James Connolly

Within a week, most of the dead starfish had been taken by marine predators. The remainder, closer to the high tide mark, were rapidly fading and shrivelling (see below).

Starfish by PC

Starfish by PC


COPYRIGHT in the following texts belongs to the individual news organisations.

Anita Guidera in The Independent, Friday November 06 2009

EXTREME weather conditions have killed tens of thousands of starfish and left them strewn across a sheltered beach. A carpet of pink and mauve echinoderms, a family of marine animals, appeared yesterday morning on Lissadell Beach in north Co Sligo. The adult starfish, measuring between 7cm and 20cm in diameter and estimated to be up to 50,000 in number, stretched along 150 metres 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 added that if they had died as a result of a so-called 'red tide' or algal bloom, other 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. Surveying the unusual scene, he placed some in a bucket of seawater to test whether they were alive, but while this prompted a slight response from one or two of the creatures, the vast majority were dead.

Phenomenon: 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 the stormy weather, which has been a feature in the north-west in recent days.

In a similar episode earlier this year, thousands of dead starfish washed ashore on Youghal Beach in Co 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.

* * *


Thousands of dead starfish washed ashore on Youghal Beach, February 13th, 2009. The dead echinoderms ranged in size from a few centimetres to several inches and were a sad spectacle to behold. The ECJ made contact with a renowned Marine Biologist, Professor Noel P. Wilkins, NUI Galway, to discover the reasons behind this strange phenomenon. ‘I’ve never seen anything like this in my lifetime,’ he stated. ‘It was unusual that starfish were the only species to be washed ashore – especially in these numbers. The most viable reason was that these starfish lived at a certain level of the ocean, and were thrown up onto the beach by a tremendous underflow, which was probably caused by a storm under the sea.’ Starfish or sea stars are found in most of temperate and tropical oceans of the world and, in this part of the world, are usually viewed in aquariums

Fast Facts
Type: Invertebrate
Diet: Carnivore
Average lifespan in the wild: Up to 35 years
Size: 4.7 to 9.4 in (12 to 24 cm)
Weight: Up to 11 lbs (5 kg)
Did you know? Sea stars have no brains and no blood. Their nervous system is spread through their arms and their “blood” is actually filtered sea water.

Becky Grice, East Cork Journal

* * *


Thousands of starfish have been washed up on a stretch of English coastline. They were stranded on a mile-long part of the beach at Holkham after exceptionally strong winds churned up the seabed off north Norfolk.

"It happens perhaps once a year," said Nigel Croasdale, manager of The Sea Life Sanctuary aquarium at nearby Hunstanton. "It's got nothing to do with pollution or global warming or anything like that. It's just a freak of nature. "Very strong winds cause the seabed, where the starfish are feeding on shellfish, to be disturbed and the starfish are washed ashore. "A few may survive but most of them will dry out and die."

Ron Harold, an English Nature warden with responsibility for managing coastal areas around Holkham, added: "We had some very strong north-easterly winds towards the end of last week and an exceptionally large number of starfish have been washed ashore. "Some are still alive but they are under extreme stress and they will perish." The natural phenomenon - known as a wreck of starfish - is said to be as thick as a carpet in places.