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Pile of dead crabs
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Why are loads of crabs and lobsters washing up dead on our shores?

It’s like something out of a horror movie

Written by
Faima Bakar
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Head up to the Tees estuary on the North Yorkshire coast – or the nearby fishing town of Whitby – and you’re likely to encounter a pretty grim sight. Thousands of crabs and lobsters have washed up dead in recent months – creating a scene straight out of a horror movie.

The Department for Food, Environment and Rural Affairs (Defra) launched an investigation into the mass die-off in December 2021 but thousands of dead crustaceans have continued to appear on our shores this year.

There’s no single explanation for the deaths. According to Defra, an increase in algae bloom, which can kill marine life due to depleting oxygen levels, may be to blame. The spokesperson added that it was an unlikely that pyridine – an anticorrosion treatment for marine structures – had contributed to the deaths. 

However, scientists at the University of Durham have poured cold water on Defra’s claims, saying that algae doesn’t usually affect crabs and that pyridine pollution was a more plausible explanation.

Lead scientist John Bothwell said nearby industrial plants that produce the pollutant could be responsible. In autumn last year, the mouth of the Tees was dredged to maintain channel depths at local ports. The contents of the river – which may have contained pyridine – was then dumped into the ocean, says Bothwell. Defra plans to meet with the scientists this week to discuss the issue.

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