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European Eels at St Kilda

4 November 2016

We are lucky to have European Eels living here at St Kilda. They live in the burns and drains and can sometimes be seen in the ‘Fire Pond’ reservoir near the helicopter pad. Occasionally work party members have come across them when clearing out the drains in the village.

Across Europe numbers of European Eels have declined dramatically in recent years and as such their conservation status has been upgraded to critically endangered. It is thought the number of European eels reaching Europe has dropped by over 90% with over-fishing, parasites, climate change and manmade barriers to their migration, such as flood defences, all thought to be contributing.

European Eel

Image of a European Eel - Image from

These eels have a fascinating life cycle. They begin their lives in the ocean but spend most of their lifetime in fresh water, only returning to the sea to spawn and die. It is thought they spawn in the Sargasso Sea in the Western Atlantic then take on a 6000km, migration to reach Europe, spending up to the first 3 years of their lives drifting in the ocean currents as larvae.

Upon reaching the coasts of Europe the larvae undergo metamorphosis into young eels known as ‘glass eels’ that are transparent. As they grow and get darker in colour they migrate up freshwater streams where they live for anywhere between 6 to 20 years before heading back to the ocean to spawn. Typically they grow to 60-80cm in length but in exceptional cases they have been known to reach 1.5m, and some have been known to live for as long as 85 years.

Fire Pond

St Kilda Fire Pond

The fire pond where the eels can be found is an essential part of the site here providing water in the case of a fire emergency. Inevitably it fills up with silt over time that occasionally needs removed to ensure there is enough water in the pond. Jobs like this are excellent examples of how the different organisations working here at St Kilda work together closely to ensure this essential work avoids harming the special qualities of the islands. Veolia Water have consulted carefully with the Trust and Scottish Natural Heritage to take steps that will aim to cause minimal disruption to the eels. Local contractors UB Civils are onsite and tasked with carrying out the works and discovering there is a very good reason why we say as slippery as an eel! As the works progress any eels are temporarily caught and placed in a tank before being moved out of harms way.

fire pond eels


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