BEACHGOERS are urged to take extra care as starfish have been spotted stranded recently during low tides.

Laura Humber said she has seen several starfish washed up on the beach in Hove over the past week.

The 33-year-old, who lives in Kingsway, said it was "heartbreaking" to see people picking up and dropping the creatures to take photos, while some were being trodden on.

She said: "I started seeing people gathered around an area of sand and then saw a lot of starfish had been washed ashore.

The Argus:

"There were some clinging onto an old groyne.

"Lots of children were picking them up and dropping them and playing with their legs. It was a bit heartbreaking.

"I kept on seeing them on the sand too, but as they blend in so well a lot of people are oblivious they are there."

Laura started to rescue the starfish by carefully picking them up with a handful of sand and walking into the sea in wellies to return them to the ocean.

She said: "I've been walking into the sea as far as I could so they would be submerged in water.

The Argus:

"I live right on the seafront and have never seen them before, but we have had some rough tides lately.

"I've seen other things washed up by strong tides but never starfish. It was quite bizarre."

Sussex Wildlife Trust WildCall Officer Charlotte Owen said starfish are more likely to be exposed on very low tides and are also sensitive to temperature changes, so the recent cold snap may have played a part.

She said: "Starfish live in the inter-tidal zone as well as deeper water, and may gather in good feeding areas.

"Any animals stranded high on the shore as the tide retreated would have struggled to get back to the water and been exposed to potentially lethal sub-zero conditions.

"Mass starfish strandings are not uncommon and are usually reported in winter, especially after stormy weather, which can result in thousands being washed up on the shore.

"Starfish live on the soft, loose sand of the sea bed so they are easily dislodged by strong currents and get hurled around a lot in bad weather.

"They cannot survive for long out of water but any found alive could be returned to the nearest rock pool or back into the sea.

The Argus:

"Starfish do reproduce very rapidly so the population will bounce back."

A spokesman for Sea Life Brighton said: "It’s important that if you spot a starfish, do not take it home with you.

"If you are trying to save the starfish you should gently place it in a bucket of sea water and move it to a rock pool area where it will be protected from the waves.

"Starfish and seabed dwelling strandings are not unusual and can occur yearly.

"While it looks worrying, starfish reproduce quickly produce large numbers through their spawning process.

"The rock pool can be a perilous place and creatures living in amongst it should not be disturbed, nor picked up and dropped."