A mystery force apparently attracting starfish to under-sea electrical cables at wind farms off Whitstable could wipe out the entire oyster population, it has been claimed.
Graham West’s family has run West Whelks in the town for 150 years, and now he fears the industry is set to be destroyed by the effects of the giant wind turbines.
He said: “No-one knows why, but these large cables under the seabed are attracting starfish and they will eat everything in the area, leaving it completely barren.
“The oysters cannot move to escape, and we face losing an entire species.
“We are not sure what attracts the starfish to the cables – it may be the heat warming the water or the magnetic field from the electricity.
“But what we do know is when divers need to go down and check the cables, they can spot where they are thanks to the cluster of starfish around them.
“Other fish in the area are migratory, like cod in the winter, sole in the spring, bass come in the summer, and then they all go again. But oysters don’t get up and walk away so will always be in danger and a lot of people around here rely on them.”
He is also concerned about the seabed dredging checking for World War Two munitions when new wind farms are created. The area of the Kent coast was attacked by invading bombers, and also a dumping ground for returning Allied aircraft.
Mr West, who processes the catches and supplies restaurants, including 14 with Michelin stars, said: “These dredgers will destroy the oyster beds, so I have asked them to guarantee they will import oysters from other parts of the British coast and replenishing stocks at Whitstable. The oyster beds will be smashed to smithereens.”
Plans to increase the number of turbines on the Kentish Flats from 30 to 47, comes from a company called Vattenfall. Mr West said: “I have a couple of questions they need to properly answer.
“I want them to guarantee wind farms do not attract starfish, but I have heard nothing back. That is not good enough. If the starfish do move in, can they guarantee it will not be the end of the species.
“I want them to do proper surveys and studies to protect these oyster beds. As far as I am concerned this is not about compensation, this is about the protection of the species for the next 2,000 years. They seem to be running roughshod over us.”
Oyster fisherman Andy Riches added: “I have seen evidence of the way starfish cloak themselves around shellfish and eat them out of their shells.
“The starfish are a plague in this area. In the old days, they were fished in some places and used as fertiliser, but costs put paid to that.
“In some areas, I leave them to die to try and keep their numbers down, but in other open areas, there are just too many to make a difference.”
Goran Loman, Vattenfall’s project manager for the Kentish Flats Extension said: “Vattenfall has been talking to the Whistable Fishermen’s Association for more than year now about our proposal for a 17 turbine extension to Kentish Flats Wind Farm. Both ourselves and the WFA agreed that where there is a demonstrable impact on local fisheries Vattenfall will pay fair compensation. We are progressing negotiations on compensation and look forward to a satisfactory conclusion.”
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