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London Eels Holiday in Bahamas

[hold your horses, the London Eels are not a football team]

Spain and The Med don’t cut it for the endangered European Eel.  Instead of settling for Ibiza to explore courtship and mating, this amazing eel hitch hikes on the intercontinental oceanic currents and, soon after turning 20, scoots over to the Bahamas to lay eggs.

After eggs hatch, larvae then float back to Europe and become Glass Eels before entering the freshwater system to become prey of herons, other fish and humans.  Those that don’t become lunch for something else, grow to 1 m long before the itch for the Bahama-Summer becomes both too much and energetically feasible.

So when a friend in Canberra said their niece worked for the prestigious Zoological Society of London and might be able to hook me up with some genuine London Eel action, of course I said “yes please”. Trading Big Ben for Eric the Eel  was an easy choice. The Society coordinates a city-wide citizen scientist program to monitor the ‘Elvers’ (young eels), the little ones returned from their Bahamas birthing.

…[pause]…to get to the River Loddon survey site, we battled typical London traffic…

During the traverse to River Loddon from the zoo I learnt that the Thames River water quality is actually improving, it is home to a hundred+ species of fish, and seals and otters that chase them! Apparently people even swim in the Thames. It turns out the brown sedimentation is here to stay due to the estuarine nature of the system, but industrial and domestic pollutants continue to decline, improving suitability for a variety of species.

During the trip I also came to appreciate the variety and depth of conservation projects that Zoological Society of London is  delivering around the world – it turns out the London Zoo is more than a Zoo! Profits from Zoo entrance fees, and uniquely priced cafe food and merchandise have to be reinvested into the Zoo itself or the local and international conservation projects.

Our River Loddon  survey sample was moderately successful, we picked up four elvers for processing, these gals and guys were 70-90 cm long and, remember, born in the Bahamas last year!

It was great to see these critters making it this far up the Loddon without falling foul of the Herons either side of the bridge.

Fingers-crossed these guys can make it to maturity and then trek-on back to the Bahamas to the pass their genes on. Maybe some of the smarter eels might find a closer breeding site in the meantime?

This study tour is sponsored by the Winston Churchill Memorial Trust and the Woodlands and Wetlands Trust

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