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Storms, seismic testing, pollution or toxic algae could be behind deaths of sea creatures

Investigations are under way as thousands of crabs and lobsters continue to wash up on beaches along the North East of England – in scenes which local residents are calling the ‘worst’ they have ever seen.

The Environment Agency confirmed samples had been taken from the sea creatures, water and sediment for laboratory analysis after the dead and alive animals began appearing on the sand along the Teeside coast between Marske and Saltburn, North Yorkshire, in Seaton Carew, Hartlepool, and further north at Seaham.

It is understood that lab analysis will test the water for pollution while also analysing the dead marine life for parasites and disease.   

Scientists have previously blamed seismic surveys, which involve blasting the sea floor with airguns and measuring the echoes in an effort to search for offshore oil and gas reserves, for the deaths of whales and other marine life. 

The blasts, which are loud enough to penetrate through the ocean for miles, can affect sea creatures, such as whales, turtles and dolphins, and can lead to the abandonment of habitat, disruption of mating and feeding, beach strandings, and even death. 

Professor Alex Ford, who works at the Institute of Marine Science at the University of Portsmouth, suggested pollution, natural storms or harmful algal blooms (HABs), which can also be influenced by organic pollution, were a likely explanation for the shocking scenes.

He said while seismic tests off the North Sea coast impacted the behaviour and physiology of whales and dolphins, they were unlikely to blame for the deaths of the thousands of crabs and lobsters in recent weeks.   

HARTLEPOOL: Dead crabs and lobsters began to appear at Seaton Carew beach (pictured), which lies along the Tees Bay, in Hartlepool earlier this month

MARSKE: Piles of dead crabs and sea creatures were also seen washed up on the beach between Saltburn and Marske, North Yorkshire

MARSKE: Piles of dead crabs and sea creatures were also seen washed up on the beach between Saltburn and Marske, North Yorkshire 

REDCAR: The dead sea creatures also appeared in Redcar as the Environment Agency confirmed that samples have been taken from the sea creatures, water and sediment

REDCAR: The dead sea creatures also appeared in Redcar as the Environment Agency confirmed that samples have been taken from the sea creatures, water and sediment 

He told MailOnline: ‘I think there could be a number of possibilities for the recent dead marine life washed up on the shores in Teeside. These could include natural storms, a pollution event, or harmful algal blooms (HABs) which can also be influenced by organic pollution. 

‘Autumnal storms often wash marine life onto the shores around this time and this is often characterised by a mixture of marine creatures and seaweed washing up on the incoming tide.

‘What appeared interesting about this event was the large number of crustaceans species (crabs and lobster) which washed up. 

‘What organisations such as the Environment Agency and Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture (CEFAS) will be looking to establish is whether there were any chemical contaminants or toxic algae in the water. 

‘In addition, they will be assessing whether the crabs and lobsters have any known diseases from bacteria, viruses or parasites which can kill off large numbers. 

‘Sometimes harmful algal blooms (HABs) can lead to this and I suspect that will also be on the Environment Agency’s radar. ‘

‘If it was just one group of animals then I might put it down to disease. If it was lots of varieties of animals it could be storm, pollution or an algal event.’

While some theories have emerged of seismic testing being the cause of the dead sea creatures washed up on shore the scientist said he would ‘rank this lower down on his list of causes’.

He added: ‘With regards to seismic testing, it’s the first I have heard of this theory. 

‘There is a lot of testing in Newcastle and along the North Sea and noise is also created during pile driving but I am not aware of any study before that would link this to mass death.

‘Whilst seismic testing is known to impact the behaviour and physiology (e.g hearing) of whales and dolphins due to their sensitive hearing and we know invertebrates are sensitive to noise, I’m not aware of any seismic testing resulting in just large numbers of dead crustaceans being washed up on the shore. 

‘I would rank this lower down my list of causes for the marine life along the shore line at this point in time.   

‘That is not to say it is not a cause but I would be intrigued if it was.’ 

The scientist also said raw sewage pumped into rivers and seas could also have had an impact on sea life.

It comes after drone footage emerged this week showing untreated sewage pouring into Langstone Harbour, a conservation area in Hampshire. 

Campaigners have previously blamed seismic surveys of the sea floor for the deaths of whales and other marine life as these noises can the animals either by causing temporary and permanent hearing loss, abandonment of habitat or disruption of mating. However experts think this is unlikely to be to blame for the deaths of thousands of crabs and lobsters in the North East

Campaigners have previously blamed seismic surveys of the sea floor for the deaths of whales and other marine life as these noises can the animals either by causing temporary and permanent hearing loss, abandonment of habitat or disruption of mating. However experts think this is unlikely to be to blame for the deaths of thousands of crabs and lobsters in the North East

Pictured: Hundreds of dead and dying crabs along the shore at Redcar, North Yorkshire, as scientists continue to look for a cause

Pictured: Hundreds of dead and dying crabs along the shore at Redcar, North Yorkshire, as scientists continue to look for a cause

A dead crab lies on the sand at a beach in Redcar, North Yorkshire as the Environment Agency continues to carry out its investigations into the possible causes

A dead crab lies on the sand at a beach in Redcar, North Yorkshire as the Environment Agency continues to carry out its investigations into the possible causes

Dead crabs and sea creatures were left piled on top of each other on a beach between Saltburn and Marske-by-the-Sea, North Yorkshire, this month

Dead crabs and sea creatures were left piled on top of each other on a beach between Saltburn and Marske-by-the-Sea, North Yorkshire, this month 

He said: ‘Some chemicals which come out with wastewater discharges are accumulating in our wildlife such as whales and dolphins. These include plastic additives, flame retardants and the non-stick/stain chemicals from frying pans and fabrics. 

‘We often think of sewage as faeces but it’s also all our washing liquids, powders, shampoos and shower gels and the pharmaceuticals we excrete. 

‘We have studied sperm counts in Langstone Harbour where the drone footage was taken and discovered that the crustaceans have low sperm counts. 

‘Previous studies in the Tyne and Tees, which are quite industrialised, had flounder (a type of flatfish) which were intersex (displaying testes and ovaries) throughout due to oestrogenic pollutants, such as the contraceptive pill, and chemicals which can act like oestrogens from our household products.’

Are seismic tests to blame for the deaths of thousands of crabs and lobsters in the North East?

Scientists have previously blamed seismic surveys of the sea floor for the deaths of whales and other marine life.

The noises these tests make are so loud they penetrate through the ocean and miles into the seafloor, then bounce back, bringing information to the surface about the location of buried oil and gas deposits.

Campaigners say in some cases they are known to occur on a recurring basis, sometimes going off every ten seconds, for 24 hours a day, often for weeks on end.

These noises can harm whales, dolphins and fish, either by causing temporary and permanent hearing loss, abandonment of habitat, disruption of mating and feeding, beach strandings, and even death. 

Wind turbines are currently being planted in the sea not far from the mouth of the Tees in the North East of England, and ships have been carrying out these seismic tests recently.

However, most experts think this is unlikely to be to blame for the deaths of thousands of crabs and lobsters in the North East.

‘It’s the first I have heard of this theory,’ said Alex Ford, professor at the Institute of marine science at the University of Portsmouth.

‘There is a lot of testing in Newcastle and along the North Sea and noise is also created during pile driving but I am not aware of any study before that would link this to mass death. 

‘Whilst seismic testing is known to impact the behaviour and physiology (e.g. hearing) of whales and dolphins due to their sensitive hearing and we know invertebrates are sensitive to noise, I’m not aware of any seismic testing resulting in just large numbers of dead crustaceans being washed up on the shore.’ 

However, he said it was still possible this could be the cause, adding that he would be ‘intrigued’ if it was.

The Marine Management Organisation — an arm of the Government — has not said whether seismic testing could be the cause of the deaths.

Nor has the Environment Agency, but it is carrying out tests to see whether pollution has led to so many crustaceans washing up dead.

Greenpeace told MailOnline that it wasn’t aware of crustacean die-off, or any marine life die-off, from offshore wind farm construction

In April, Professor Ford and a team of experts at the University of Portsmouth conducted a study investigating the sperm quality in marine life at Langstone Harbour.

They found that creatures in the area had 70 per cent less sperm than those in less polluted locations.    

Speaking on the long term impact of the dead crustaceans appearing on beaches Mr Ford added: ‘If this is a disease this could affect the sea creatures in the area that feed off them and it means a proportion of their food will be taken away.

‘It could also affect local fisheries and could see them decline.’

Wind turbines are currently being planted in the sea not far from the mouth of the Tees in the North East of England, and ships have been carrying out these seismic tests recently.

However, most experts think this is unlikely to be to blame for the deaths of thousands of crabs and lobsters in the North East.

Mr Ford said: ‘They conduct pile driving when constructing the wind farms which creates noise and vibrations but I would put this in a similar category to the seismic surveys for oil and gas. 

‘It’s less likely until the natural storms, algal blooms, disease or chemical pollution have been ruled out. ‘

Meanwhile a spokesperson at Greenpeace told MailOnline: ‘I’m not aware of any examples of crustacean die-off, or any marine life die off, from offshore wind farm construction.

‘In general terms, my understanding is that marine life tends to move away from offshore wind farms during construction, and then returns in greater numbers after completion (due to the reef effect).’ 

This week Marske resident Sharon Bell, who walks the stretch of beach near her home every day, said the numbers of creatures have steadily increased over the past two weeks.

She was out early on Monday morning photographing the sunrise with her husband Christopher when the pair arrived at the beach and were horrified to find huge piles of dead and alive crabs and lobsters littered across it.

Mrs Bell, 48, who has lived in the area for 21 years, said: ‘They spent the next four hours trying to return any live ones they could find back into the water.

‘I have been along my usual walk from Marske to Saltburn and was utterly shocked and saddened to see in some parts, waist deep seaweed full of thousands of dead and alive crabs and lobsters, all kinds and species.

‘I have never seen anything like this.

‘My husband and I have spent hours putting as many live ones as we could back in the sea, something is very, very wrong here. This has been building up for a couple of weeks, along our coast and no-one is doing anything about it.’ 

She added: ‘It was just awful to see. It has been building up over the last couple of weeks but I have never seen anything like that. It was so deep in some parts and piled that high.’ 

Local resident Carl Clyne, 42, said he first spotted the scores of dead crabs while walking his dog along Seaton Carew beach on October 6.

He told the Hartlepool Mail: ‘There were dead crabs in every rock pool and quite a lot of them along the water line among the sea weed.

‘I walk down there quite a lot, I’ve never seen that before.’  

Following the scenes former Redcar MP Anna Turley took to Twitter to write: ‘What is going on? This is getting apocalyptic.’

Meanwhile Conservative MP Jacob Young told the Northern Echo: ‘(It’s) deeply worrying that this seems to be continuing on our coastline.

‘I have raised it with Ministers and will continue to, until cause is identified.’

The Environment Agency confirmed on Monday that it had launched an investigation into the mysterious occurrence along the Teeside coast to find out if high emissions were to blame. 

A spokesperson for the Environment Agency told MailOnline: ‘We are working with partners at the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture, North Eastern Inshore Fisheries Conservation Authority and the Marine Management Organisation to investigate why hundreds of dead crabs have washed up along the shore in the Tees Estuary and neighbouring beaches.

‘Samples of water, sediment, mussel and crab have been collected and are being sent to our labs for analysis, to consider whether a pollution incident could have contributed to the deaths of the animals. We have also shared samples with Cefas labs for disease analysis.

‘If you are aware of pollution affecting wildlife, please report it to the Environment Agency on 0800 807060.’    

The scenes come as Boris Johnson prepares to welcome global leaders to Glasgow for the Cop26 climate summit this week, where he wants countries to commit to slashing carbon emissions.

Last week, Mr Johnson unveiled his Net Zero strategy to turn Britain green by 2050 – but was warned by the Treasury that taxes and consumer costs could rise to cover the estimated £1trillion bill. 

Mr Johnson insisted that he was not afraid to ‘lead the charge’ – saying ‘history has never been made by those who sit at the back of the class’.

He claimed that Russia and China are ‘following our lead’ – even though both President Xi and President Putin are expected to snub the Cop26 summit.

The Government says that switching from fossil fuels to clean energy, including wind, new nuclear and emerging hydrogen technology, can ease the reliance on imports and protect families from price spikes.

It says 440,000 ‘well-paid’ jobs can be created over the next decade.

As well as clean flights, a shift to electric cars by 2035, and gas boilers out by 2030, there will be a focus on encouraging homeowners to be more environmentally-conscious. That could include incentivising mortgage lenders to prioritise properties with better energy ratings.

However, there are growing concerns from the Tory backbenches at the consequences of the push – which economists say is likely to cost £1trillion over 30 years, although the bill for dealing with climate change would almost certainly be higher. 

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