SEAL rescue volunteer Sally Bunce only started 20 months ago but has already seen enough devastation along the Teesside and North Yorkshire coast to suggest that the entire eco system is at threat.

From dead crabs, lobsters and shellfish to malnourished seal pups and porpoises, the issue of sea life washing up on the shores has been ongoing since October and is an every day concern for locals.

On a visit to Skinningrove, where she has been cleaning the beach after a morning trip to Whitby to deliver a dead lobster for testing, she told of the grim reality of her role due to the rise in dead sea life.

“I have been seeing the impact it has on this year’s seal pups and it’s devastating,” she told The Northern Echo.

“They are hanging on by the skin of their teeth to survive yet their skin is peeling off. I know about 10 fishermen already who have sold their boats. It’s a dead zone.”

The Northern Echo: Sally Bunce, seal rescue volunteerSally Bunce, seal rescue volunteer

An investigation by DEFRA ruled a naturally occurring harmful algal bloom was the cause, but this is disputed by locals who say their concerns have gone unanswered and labelled the probe “pitiful”.  

Sally added: “It’s tragic that we have been left and ignored. This is the collapse of an entire eco system. I don’t see how they cannot open the investigation again.”

As area coordinator she has become a well-known presence along the local shoreline and has seen the crisis first hand.

“I’ve spoken to some divers who said the floor is littered with dead crustaceans. I can’t believe that we’re happy to kill our life source,” she said.

“It’s criminal and it’s negligence.”

The Northern Echo: Dead seals have washed up along the Teesside coastline Dead seals have washed up along the Teesside coastline

However, there are no plans to re-open the investigation, and DEFRA remains committed to its ruling that a naturally occurring harmful algal bloom is the most likely cause.

A DEFRA spokeswoman said: “We are monitoring recent small scale wash ups at South Gare and the Tees area, and remain in close contact with both the local fishing industry and other partner agencies.”

This hasn’t stopped locals in their campaigning though. Instead, people believe the deaths are a direct consequence of dredging in the River Tees.

The Northern Echo: Saltburn beach Saltburn beach

The crisis is affecting beaches popular with dog walkers, day trippers and sun seekers, with South Gare, Marske and Saltburn highlighted as hotspots. With the water conditions proving fatal for some sea life many wonder how long it will be until the area is unsafe for summer swimmers.

It has also gained the attention of environmental campaigner George Monboit, who said: "Given that it has happened again, at a different time of year, government attempts to ascribe the disaster to natural causes look even less credible.

"We urgently need an open and unbiased investigation."

“This massive die off is devastating,” added Sally. “Is it going to be safe for people to bathe? The impact it could have if it’s not dealt with is going to impact more than just the fishermen.”

Sally says she spends five hours a day contacting politicians despite not receiving responses.  

“I am going to do my damnedest until we get to the bottom of this.

“There’s definitely something going on here and there’s a reason why it’s not been investigated like it should. Nobody wants to seem to find the truth.”

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