When British photographer Lara Maiklem heard tens of thousands of sea creatures washed up on a beach near her hometown of Kent, England, over the weekend she had to see the scene for herself. So, she woke her 5-year-old twins in time to catch the tide.
Maiklem described the scene as “shocking” and “sad,” but at the same time, she had to admit it was an “incredible” sight. In fact, it was “almost biblical in scale,” she added.
“There were thousands upon thousands of starfish, with crabs, sea urchins, fish and sea anenomies mixed in with them,” Maiklem told Fox News. “Someone even found a lobster.”
The creatures covered the sandy beach like a thick blanket. Maiklem and her two kids tried to rescue as many fish as they could, tossing them one by one back into the sea.
It was “almost biblical in scale.”
The animals were the victims of a cold spell – what Maiklem called a “beast from the east” – that hit the U.K. last week. Similar scenes were reported down the coast, Yorkshire Wildlife Trust, a wildlife conservation charity, said in a news release on Wednesday.
“There was a three degree drop in sea temperature last week which will have caused animals to hunker down and reduce their activity levels,” Bex Lynam, North Sea marine advocacy officer for Yorkshire Wildlife Trust, said in a statement provided to Fox News. “This makes them vulnerable to rough seas – they became dislodged by large waves and washed ashore when the rough weather kicked in.”
Crabs, starfish and mussels were “ankle-deep” in some places, though at least two lucky marine species seemed to survive the freeze: lobsters and crabs.
“Lobsters and crabs can survive out of water, unlike the majority of the other creatures washed up,” Lynam told Fox News. “Also they have a hard exoskeleton, which offers them a certain level of protection when being thrown around by the sea.”
Maiklem said she also found several dead sea birds washed up along the same stretch.
“I understand it is a natural phenomena,” Maiklem said. “I’m pleased I went to see it, but I wouldn’t like to see it again.”
Wildlife officials also hope they won’t see a repeat of the disaster.
Yorkshire Wildlife Trust is working with local fisherman to clear the beach and rescue any remaining species that are still alive.
“This area is very important for shellfish and we work alongside fishermen to promote sustainable fisheries and protect reproductive stocks,” Lynam said. “It’s worth saving them so that they can be put back into the sea and continue to breed.”
Dr. Lissa Batey, senior living seas officer with The Wildlife Trusts, an organization made up of 47 local wildlife trusts in the U.K., said the government can help the creatures by designating more marine conservation zones.
“We can’t prevent natural disasters like this – but we can mitigate against declining marine life and the problems that humans cause by creating enough protected areas at sea and by ensuring that these sites are large enough and close enough to offer fish, crustaceans, dolphins and other marine life the protection they require to withstand natural events such as this,” Batey said in a statement.