IN PERIL: Children are helping to save starfish washed up on beaches. Picture: Lesley Rochat

Cape Town - Hundreds of starfish washed up on Fish Hoek and Glencairn beaches in recent weeks will hitch a ride on a boat into deeper water where they will be released later on Monday.

Conservationist Lesley Rochat, founder of the non-profit AfriOceans Conservation Alliance, said beachgoers noticed the spiny starfish washing up in great numbers.

Residents helped collect the starfish and put them into two pools – Skellies on the catwalk at Fish Hoek and Glencairn tidal pool.

“They were dying. There were bits of legs on the beach and some were suffocating in the sand.”

The survivors will be packed in boxes and taken out to sea. Rochat said a boat from the Boat Company had offered to support the release and would be leaving the quayside at Simon’s Town at 3pm.

It is not entirely clear why so many starfish have been washing up.

“It does happen from time to time but not in such volumes,” Rochat said.

“There was initially some concern about the water condition but it doesn’t look like that is the cause. We think something happened out at sea.”

Rochat said that Dr Charles Griffiths, an internationally-renowned invertebrate specialist and AfriOceans board member, suspected the starfish were in the process of spawning when they were pushed on to the shore by upwelling and trapped inshore on the rocks. They were concerned that some of the males were dying after delivering sperm.

Children and their parents who helped save the starfish, and pupils from the AfriOceans Warriors environmental programme, will be involved with collecting the starfish, and their release at sea.

In the past four years, some 33 000 children have been part of the Warriors initiative, many of whom have taken part in programmes such as Swim Like a Shark. It has been funded by the National Lottery.

“It’s an amazing project. I was so shocked by how many children who live here at the coast don’t know how to swim.”

Rochat was inducted into the Women Divers Hall of Fame in 2010.

Cape Argus