On Monday 5 October – seven days after hundreds of starfish washed out on Fish Hoek beach – local conservation organisations and volunteers returned the little star-shaped creatures to the sea.
AfriOceans Conservation Alliance, a local organisation dedicated to environmental conservation, was the first point of contact for the first beachgoers who spotted the beached starfish on Monday 28 September.
Lucille White, a local resident, says: “I was walking around and I saw one, and I thought this was a bit odd. Then I carried on walking towards Clovelly and I saw there were about 20.”
Head of education at AfriOceans Terry Corr says the starfish continued to wash up on the Monday night and into Tuesday 29 September. “We saw hundreds of starfish on the beach, covered in this black silt. We just had to pick them up and put them in Skellies tidal pool (in Fish Hoek) where we knew the starfish would be able to survive for a few days.”
According to Corr, they were well aware of how to handle this anomaly because they’ve done it before. He says just five years ago, more than 1 200 sea stars washed up on the beach, 511 of which they were able to save through the same action.
Another local resident, Storm Arnold, says he and his family stumbled upon the rescue effort. “We were just on the beach at the right time and I bumped into Terry, and I asked the guys what they were doing and he told us they’re saving starfish, so we jumped in and started helping,” he says.
Corr further explains that they could not leave the starfish in the tidal pool where they were initially placed as they are not typically found there. Small starfish can survive in tidal pool conditions but the large species belong in deep waters.
“When we took them out of the pool (on 5 October) where we had kept them for a few days, we had to pry some of them off the rocks; they were so strong – which is exactly what we wanted.
“We wanted them to stiffen up because when we first rescued them they were very floppy and in very poor condition.
“We are very concerned about why this is happening; it’s the second time in five years,” Corr says.
His colleague and head of special projects, Jon Monsoon, adds that this occurrence was just one in a series of unusual activity on the beach.
“The yellow-bellied sea snake was the first to wash up on Fish Hoek beach – that was the first thing that indicated that things aren’t okay (in the ocean) because you never see that. And then it was the starfish after that and then the dead baby penguin washed up after that,” Monsoon notes.
The organisation is concerned about this activity and cannot yet assert whether the cause of the incidents could be attributed to pollution, acts of man or acts of nature such as the Earth tremors that took place just before.
Many of the residents who had witnessed the initial starfish anomaly volunteered to take part in returning the starfish to the sea. David Hurwitz, owner of the Simon’s Town Boat Company, says he was happy to help get the animals to where they needed to be.
“Besides running a business, everything we do is around the environment. What brought us into this business was the love of the ocean. Whether its starfish or any other marine animal, we’re always available to put something back.
“It’s also a great educational opportunity for young kids because the starfish don’t usually go ashore,” says Hurwitz.
Starfish, conservationists and volunteers, transported by Hurwitz and his team, sailed out to Noah’s Ark – otherwise known as Ark Rock – to release the sea stars back to their natural habitat.
A total of 374 sea stars were returned on 5 October. An additional 78, which were found at Skellies afterwards, were returned by kayak on Wednesday 7 October.