Starfish, jellyfish dying from cold

By Neville Miller

CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCIV) -- Temperatures are on pace to make this December one of the coldest on record. That frigid weather is taking its toll on sea life along the coast.

Isle of Palms beaches are littered with dead sea life.

"We saw just hundreds of starfish as we were walking along the beach laying on top of each other, little ones, big ones," said Patti Normile, who noticed the dead animals while walking at the beach at the Isle of Palms.

"Numerous starfish, jellyfish, all dead unfortunately washed up on shore," said Colleen Yelm, who also noticed the dead animals while walking at the beach at the Isle of Palms.

Many of the starfish and jellyfish washed up several days ago and marine biologists say that cold weather this month may be to blame.

"Most of our animals off our coastline are temperate, so they can handle midrange to warm water," said Tim Handsel, marine biologist and director of husbandry at Ripley's Aquarium.

Besides starfish and jellyfish, popular fishing favorites may also be at risk because of the frigid waters along our coast.

"Shrimp and crabs for the remainder of this shrimping season, but what may happen to the recruitment of the next shrimping season," Handsel said.

Sea turtles and fish also may be threatened by the cold, a trend noticed by some Lowcountry fishermen.

"Between a half a dozen guides, we've seen about a dozen trout dead in the past week or so," explained Jamie Hough, a fishing charter guide for the last 15 years with Flat Spot Charters.

Handsel says the cold weather deaths are part of a natural cycle; however he has his concerns about long term effects.

"It makes you wonder if these sea stars are being impacted so greatly just off of Charleston, what is this doing to the other animals. Is this a harbinger of things to come that we may not see until springtime," Handsel said.

According to the National Weather Service, water temperatures are in the upper 40s in Charleston Harbor.