Marlborough eels get schoolgirl guardian

Conservation
Thursday, February 23, 2017

Endangered eels have found a safe haven under the watchful eye of a 12-year-old schoolgirl.

Lily McRae is a huge eel fan, having learned as much as she can about the slippery creatures. She helps care for a trio near her home in Pohara in Golden Bay.

Her knowledge of the fish so impressed Department of Conservation rangers they have made her an unofficial eel ambassador.

Now a special sign, which she helped create, has gone up at Nydia Bay in Pelorus Sound.

Nydia Bay residents, from left, Brian Paton, Martin Sygrove, Department of Conservation ranger Wendy Sullivan and Lily McRae install the new sign on the Nydia Bay Track.

The bay was home to well-known eel Ella, which was killed for bait in 2015. Ella's death made headlines, and angered locals and visitors who had become fond of the eel.

Ella was estimated to be between 60 and 80-years-old and was the bay's unofficial mascot.

Lilly, a member of Marlborough-based Conservation Kids New Zealand, is determined no other eels will suffer and is educating Nydia Bay Track users about the species.

"I enjoy educating people about how amazing and fascinating eels are and in turn I hope that people will stop catching them just for fun.

"Many people don't realise that our New Zealand long-fin eel is actually endangered.

Lily also helps care for a trio of eels near her Pohara home in Golden Bay.

"I feed them [at Pohara] every day. Eels are almost blind and can tell from the vibrations in the ground that I'm on my way.

"They're not fussy about what they eat but don't like citrus," she says.

There are about 16 freshwater eel species in the world, three of which can only be found in New Zealand.

DOC ranger Wendy Sullivan from the Picton office says Conservation Kids NZ inspires young people to be proactive about conservation.

"Lily is such a great ambassador for eel. It was great to work with her and give her the opportunity to be involved with DOC on a conservation project.

"This sign will inform thousands of people a year so her contribution is significant."

 - The Marlborough Express

Read more about eels on the DOC website   http://http://www.doc.govt.nz/nature/native-animals/freshwater-fish/eels/