Pics: Environment Agency
Groundbreaking project saves glass eels
They’re one of the most endangered species on the planet, but now work on the River Parrett could safeguard their future. Special 'eel passes' have been built to help them swim upstream to fresh water.
Government scientists and experts at the Royal Zoological Society in London are using ground-breaking research based in Somerset to find ways of saving the species from extinction.
Work carried out by Andy Don at the Environment Agency has involved building a series of 'eel passes' at King Sedgemoor’s Drain on the River Parrett to enable them to swim upstream.
Baby eel climbing up the pass
The information they're collecting about eel numbers will also indicate how climate change affects the Gulf Stream that brings the eel larvae back to British shores.
The Gulf Stream is a strong, warm ocean current which flows from Mexico, up the eastern seaboard of North America across the Atlantic. It ensures that the waters around the UK remain ice free through the year.
Experts believe if this is affected by climate change the eels are in danger of missing their target destination.
Eels start their life 4,000 miles away in the Sargasso Sea near Bermuda and make their journey to Somerset where they spend much of their lives in the county’s rivers and streams.
Experts say they spend ten years maturing into silver eels and then return to their birthplace where they spawn and die.
The eel pass at Oath is 20 foot long
The 'eel passes' have been installed at Oath Lock on the River Parrett and Greylake Sluice on Kings Sedgemoor Drain.
They are open-topped metal corridors with bristles in the base and have been installed on either side of the sluice.
“The eels literally worm their way up through the bristles and get delivered to the other side.
"While they're doing that we've got a camera in place to record it, as all this happens in the dead of night," said Andy Don.
Their night-time journeys are filmed by infra-red CCTV cameras which experts are using to determine more about their population and life cycle.
Ten thousand migrating eels
Previously there was no information available about eel populations in the River Parrett but now the night-time cameras have recorded surprising pictures, on one occasion showing 10,000 eels migrating upstream in a single night.
The eels slither up the green bristles
The information will be sent to the European Parliament to build a road map of where they live and where more eel passes should be built.
“They get flushed to Europe because of the Gulf Stream – the current of warm water which stabilises the climate of the British Isles,” said Andy.
“We still don’t know for sure, but the decline of glass eels could be an indicator of changes which are happening to the Gulf Stream.”
last updated: 04/09/2008 at 17:31