From the Wide Sargasso Sea to Eel Pie Island

an eel passJoe PecorelliI am always trying to think of new swimming games to play with the children I teach. One that I came up with recently was imitating things you might find in the water. Then the others in the class have to guess what you are being. They have had many and various ideas, including lots of mermaids, mermaid princesses, sharks, crocodiles, sea weed, jelly fish, an octopus, dolphins, an island, a giraffe come down to drink at the water’s edge (I said that was stretching the rules a bit), stones and even sand. I sometimes take a turn myself and almost always when I am being the thing, whatever it is, the children guess whale. (It never is whale). We rarely get fish but for some reason but the other day one little boy decided to be a fish, and he was such a wriggling kind of fish that someone guessed eel.

That got me to thinking about eels.

During its lifetime, the European Eel travels from the Sargasso Sea, to Europe and back again, a distance of 10,000 kilometres. Scientists are not sure exactly how they do this but it seems they use the Earth’s magnetic field to find their way. In recent years numbers of Eels in our rivers and streams have declined rapidly. There could be many reasons for this but one theory is that part of the problem could be the number of man made barriers such as locks and weirs that are stopping them from getting through.

Eels are not very pretty, or very glamorous creatures, but they are very important to us.

Eels used to be very prolific in our rivers and streams, hence the jellied eels of London’s East End, and the famous Eel Pie, of Eel Pie Island. Nowadays Eels are not so popular as a food stuff but they are very important for our environment. Eels are a keystone species. This means they have a disproportionately large effect on their environment relative to their numbers. Keystone species play a critical role in maintaining the structure of ecology and they affect many other organisms in an ecosystem, thus helping to determine the types and numbers of other species in the communities.

Eels are critical to the health of our waters and fish stocks. If the eels disappear, other species will be seriously affected. For example it seems that otters may be turning to other food sources as they can not find enough eels to eat.

Environmentalist Joe Pecorelli is heading up a new initiative, the London Eel Action Plan (LEAP), looking into eel migration. Part of this initiative is to design and build special eel bridges and passes to enable eels to navigate rivers more effectively. For more information click here

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