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Satellites shine a light on eel migration

General - European Eel © The Environment Agency

An Environment Agency led research team is close to understanding the spawning and migratory route of the critically endangered European Eel. The actual location of the eels’ breeding area has never been identified. Locating it could be a critical step in protecting the species.

The research group identified European Eel populations on the Azores Islands in the Sargasso Sea. Three large eels were captured and fitted with satellite tracking tags. These eels were released in December 2018 to begin their migration. The tags will release after 8 months – giving the eels until July 2019 to reach their spawn site – at this point the tags will float to the surface and transmit their data to the researchers via satellite.

Environment Agency project lead and researcher Ros Wright said: "We hope that at least one of these three satellite tagged eels will become a superhero to the species by completing the migration lifecycle, giving agencies and conservationists around the world the clues needed to protect this iconic species."

Current evidence suggests the eels migrate over 6,000km from across Europe to spawn and die somewhere in the Sargasso Sea.

At a local level, efforts are being made to help support the species. The Environment Agency has installed a number of eel and fish passes at man-made structures that can impede the movement of the eels.

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