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Toxin alert: Do not handle starfish

Dog owners have again been reminded to be alert to their pets picking up potentially lethal dead sea creatures they may find along Boston borough's tidal areas.

People have also been advised not to handle any dead starfish they see.

The risk from dead fish and other aquatic animals which might contain a poisonous toxin is now low risk, but the Eastern Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Authority, is still urging caution.

Two dogs - one in Norfolk and one in Suffolk - are thought to have died from the toxin after finding dead fish on beaches.

Further testing has been carried out by the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science (Cefas) and crabs, whelks and shrimps have shown either very low levels of PSP (Paralytic Shellfish Poisoning) toxins (well below the regulatory limit) or no toxins at all. However, further tests on starfish samples have found extremely high levels of toxins.

PSP toxins are produced naturally by certain species of microscopic algae. The source of the contamination is still unknown and is being investigated.

It is thought that the contaminated animals were washed up on beaches during winter storms and are likely to have now been washed back into the sea.

Whilst it is thought unlikely that starfish with high levels of PSP toxins pose a health risk to humans through handling them, as a precaution people should refrain from handling any starfish they might find on the beach.

Eastern Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Authority (Eastern IFCA) is co-ordinating the activity of relevant agencies in seeking to establish the source and extent of the PSP contamination. The agencies involved include Cefas, the Food Standards Agency, local authority environmental health departments, the Marine Management Organisation and the Environment Agency.

The CEO of Eastern IFCA, Julian Gregory, said: "Any risk is only because of ingestion so our advice to the public remains the same. There is a low level of risk to beach users and their pets but as a precaution it is suggested that dogs are kept under close control, on leads or muzzled and people should avoid handling starfish. There is no risk to people or pets from seawater.'

Sea anglers, who often fish for Dab at this time of year, may wish to return their catch to the sea and avoid retaining it for consumption as a precautionary measure.

Owners of pets that have become ill after consuming items on a beach are asked to report the matter to the district or borough council for the area where the incident occurred.

Dog owners are still being advised to keep their pets on leads and keep an eye on what they are picking up following the earlier sea life toxin alert.

Dogs have died after picking up infected sea creatures washed ashore in Norfolk and Suffolk and the alert extends to areas around The Wash, including the Boston marshes and tidal river.

The advice to beware all dead sea animals, especially starfish, has been extended after many more were washed ashore by Storm Emma. The Norfolk beaches, especially Hunstanton, have been badly affected.

More information for vets and pet owners can be found at]

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