Thousands of starfish wash up in Andalusia after ‘Beast of the East’

The storm that swept across Spain’s southern tip last weekend not only caused damage to boats, cars and buildings along the coast but also brought devastation to the starfish population.

Thousands of starfish wash up in Andalusia after 'Beast of the East'
Photo: Stills from video by Juana Salas / Facebook

A carpet of the marine animals were washed up on Punta Umbria beach in Huelva on Monday in what conservationists believe was a direct result of Storm Emma.

A video uploaded by Juana Salas on Facebook showing the extent of the stranding has been viewed over half a million times:

Such mass strandings happen from time to time but the extreme weather conditions of the last week combined to have a devastating effect on the starfish population.

“The sea bottom was churned up at the same time as there being spring tides and add to that a tornado,”  explained José Antonino Cuesta, a marine biologist at the Marine Scientific Institute of Andalusia (CSIC).

“Starfish may be at particular risk of strandings after storms because of a behaviour ‘known as “starballing’, “ explains Coleen Suckling, a lecturer in Marine Biology at Bangor University, in an article for The Conversation.

READ: Storm hits Cadiz and reveals long lost Roman ruins 

“By curling each of their multiple arms to create a large spherical balloon shape with their body, they can essentially roll over the seabed in fast-moving water and cover much greater distances. But during a storm they could be rolled out of control and left stranded on the beach,” said Suckling.

Mass starfish strandings aren’t completely unheard of, she writes. Several million were found on the coast of Worcester County, Maryland, USA in 1960. Up to 10,000 were found along the strandline on the Isle of Man in the British Isles in 1999. And 50,000 were stranded on the Irish coastline in 2009.

The Beast of the East also caused mass starfish stranding on the British coastline last week, specifically in Ramsgate, Kent.



Police operation targets illegal water tapping in Spain

More than 130 people were arrested or placed under investigation for illegal water tapping last year, Spain’s Guardia Civil police said on Wednesday following a huge operation.

Police said most of their operations took place “in fragile and vulnerable areas such as the Doñana natural park”
Police said most of their operations took place “in fragile and vulnerable areas such as the Doñana natural park” in Andalusia. Photo: CRISTINA QUICLER / AFP

During the year-long operation, “133 people were arrested or investigated for extracting water through more than 1,533 illegal infrastructure devices”, the police’s environmental unit said in a statement.

A similar operation in 2019 had targeted 107 people.

Spain is one of the European countries most at risk from the impact of drought caused by global warming, scientists say.

Water usage issues are often at the heart of heated political debates in Spain where intensive agriculture plays an important role in the economy.

Police said most of their operations took place “in fragile and vulnerable areas such as the Doñana natural park” in the southern Andalusia region, one of Europe’s largest wetlands and a Unesco World Heritage bird sanctuary.

They were also operating in “in the basins of Spain’s main rivers”.

In Doñana, police targeted 14 people and 12 companies for the illegal tapping of water for irrigation, a police spokesman said.

Ecologists regularly raise the alarm about the drying up of marshes and lagoons in the area, pointing the finger at nearby plantations, notably growing strawberries, which are irrigated by illegally-dug wells.

“The overexploitation of certain aquifers for many reasons, mainly economic, constitutes a serious threat to our environment,” the Guardia Civil said.

The European Court of Justice rapped Spain over the knuckles in June for its inaction in the face of illegal water extraction in Donana which covers more than 100,000 hectares (250,000 acres) and is home to more than 4,000 species, including the critically endangered Iberian lynx.

According to the government’s last official estimate, which dates back to 2006, there were more than half a million illegal wells in use.

But in a 2018 study, Greenpeace estimated there were twice as many, calculating that the quantity of stolen water was equivalent to that used by 118 million people — two-and-a-half times the population of Spain.

Spanish NGO SEO/Birdlife also on Wednesday raised the alarm about the “worrying” state of Spain’s wetlands.