A record 5,000 elvers (baby eels) have made the first count of the year in the Thames Estuary by conservationists from the Zoological Society of London (ZSL).
This is a long overdue glimmer of hope for the critically endangered European eel (Anguilla anguilla) whose numbers have been crashing since the 1980’s. ZSL’s count last year totalled around 1,000 eels for the entire six month season, and research to date shows a 98 percent drop in the number of elvers arriving from their epic three year migration from the North Atlantic Ocean.
Stephen Mowat, ZSL’s Thames conservation project manager says: “We’re really pleased to have seen more than 5,000 elvers in our eel traps on the River Medway, but their future still remains uncertain.
“The European eel is facing extinction, even more so than the polar bear or blue whale. And although our monitoring has shown an initial jump in numbers of juvenile eels arriving in the Thames, we won’t know for several years whether it is the start of a positive trend or just a blip in an otherwise bleak outlook for this unique species,” Stephen added.
The eel’s connection to London has been apparent for centuries, mainly as a dish on menus in the East End. But as an important part of aquatic life in the capital, they help keep a balance of animals in the waters and are themselves food to more visible and once endangered river wildlife like herons and otters.
Just one of the problems facing eels is the prevention of their migration by man-made barriers. ZSL, together with collaborators, are continuing to install permanent pathways over these obstacles, allowing easier movement further upstream. This will allow for extra habitats and eventually lead to more eels living in London’s rivers.
ZSL’s European eel project will continue efforts to improve river management and help protect this critically endangered species. The support from local volunteers is invaluable, as they have ‘adopted’ specially set up traps along their local rivers and don their waders twice a week, come rain or shine, to check for eels during the six month migration period.