THOUSANDS of polystyrene balls washed up on a beach over the weekend in what has been described as an "ecological disaster" by campaigners.

Leave No Trace Brighton put an immediate call-out for helpers on Saturday after the tiny plastic balls were spotted along the stretch of the beach in Brighton, all the way from the Palace Pier to Marocco's in Hove.

Coral Evans, who founded the campaign group, said the polystyrene pieces are believed to be linked to an incident in Kent last month, when a large pontoon and huge pieces of polystyrene washed up on beaches.

She said: "On Saturday morning we got a notification from a member of our community who called in distress to say these polystyrene balls were everywhere on the beach.

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"They are so tiny they look like fish eggs and when we went down there we saw a bunch of seagulls pecking at some.

"These balls will break down into microplastics – which is a problem for all the small fish and the sea creatures which eat them, as they're full of toxic chemicals - and further down the line, for us, when the fish end up on our plates.

"Research has shown the chemical compounds in polystyrene can change the genetic make-up of small fish.

"The other problem with plastic is it cannot be digested.

"Animals and birds starve to death when their stomachs get full of plastic because there's no room for their normal food.

"It's horrible stuff."

Last month a human-sized piece of polystyrene washed up on a beach in Ramsgate in Kent.

The Argus: Some of the polystyrene balls collected by beach cleanersSome of the polystyrene balls collected by beach cleaners

It was reported the block got caught in a sea cave, and a combination of stormy weather and the tide meant tiny polystyrene particles began to scatter across the beach and back into the sea.

Coral said: "A huge pontoon washed up in Kent which was being kept afloat by blocks of polystyrene, and the floats came loose.

"The reason this has been such an ecological disaster is the floats were not sealed properly. That should have been done or they should have been taken out of the water.

"Every time the tide came in it was like cement mixer churning this stuff up.

"We think the balls on Brighton beach are the fall-out from this incident."

Coral said Leave No Trace Brighton has had an "overwhelming" response to their call-out on Saturday, with several beach cleaners helping to painstakingly remove the polystyrene balls across the beach over the weekend.

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The group, which organises beach cleans and promotes responsible rubbish disposal, is hoping to access a garden hoover to help clear the deadly plastic balls from the beach.

Coral added: "The community has been incredible - after our call-out people jumped at the opportunity to get involved.

"I've been down to the beach this morning and there's still bits of plastic everywhere.

"It's been spotted between the Palace Pier and the King Alfred beach but will be either side of these too and to the west of the groynes.

"We're appealing to anyone going down to the seafront to consider clearing a handful or two, and we're also trying to get hold of a garden hoover we could use to suck up the polystyrene."

For more information or to get involved with Leave No Trace Brighton, visit their Facebook page.