Cold snap kills thousands of crabs

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The Independent Online

The icy temperatures have caused the death of thousands of velvet swimming crabs which have been left littering the shoreline, experts said today.

Melting snow has exposed the creatures either dead or dying on the beaches in the Thanet area of Kent, preventing many beach users from seeing the sand in places.

It is the second year running that thousands of velvet swimming crabs have been washed up in the area. Last year the Environment Agency launched an inquiry amid concerns that a mystery virus could be to blame.

But a spokesman for Thanet Coast Project said the conclusion was that it looked likely the deaths were linked to the cold weather.

The crabs make up around 95% of the affected coastal wildlife, but a variety of other marine life has also been hit, including common whelks, sponges and anemones.

Tony Child, the Thanet Coast project manager, said: "This shows just how much severe weather can disrupt marine life, as well as our own lives.

"In our own gardens, we can see the effect that the snow and ice has on feeding birds and local wildlife, but of course severe weather can also have an impact on our local shoreline.

"Usually the temperature of the marine environment is much more stable than our air temperatures.

"However, investigations into a similar incident we had along the Thanet coast last year now make it more likely that the crabs just couldn't cope with the severe cold."

Mr Child said the crabs should not pose a danger to people or animals.

"As happens with the circle of life in nature, we expect the crabs to be naturally dispersed from our shores very quickly by our local seagulls," he said.

So far, crabs have been reported between Westbrook, Cliftonville and Kingsgate. However, there are also reports of smaller numbers from Broadstairs to Ramsgate.