Prospect Park

Letter to the Editor October 27

"Animal Equivalent of the Kudzu Vine"

October 27, 2020
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Dear Editor,

The recent article touching upon the Southeast Asian eel infestation in Prospect Park’s lake doesn’t seem to identify the gravity of the issue. As said in the article, there is no plan to eradicate the eels but that the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation is hoping they will die off in the winter. This immature response can have its repercussions: the possibility of this species surviving the winter and wrecking the local environment.

According to the USGS, eels stop feeding at 14-16 degrees Celsius and die at 8-9 degrees Celsius. In New York City, the temperatures reach an average low of -4 degrees Celsius during the coldest months but the invasive eels in Georgia have survived below freezing temperatures. Additionally, eels enter a state of torpor at 3 degrees Celsius (according to the UChicago Press Journal): a state that is similar to hibernation. This state allows an eel to stay alive during extreme temperatures and avoid starvation. Although this article only spoke of the American eels’ torpor, it can be assumed that the Southeast Asian eel will have similar reactions (also, the eels’ reactions might have adapted since they have been removed from their original habitat). One might bring up that permanent Southeast Asian eel invasions are only experienced in hot weather like the disruptive population in the Everglades but the eel infestation in Silver Lake counters this. Back in 2004 (or earlier) in the Silver Lake in Gibbsboro, New Jersey, someone dumped their Asian eel pets in the waterway. In 2008, hundreds of Asian eels were found in the Silver Lake (NJ News). This means that these eels had survived 4 New Jersey winters. With the average low for New Jersey winters being -6 degrees Celsius, it can be assumed that these Asian eels might survive this winter.

Aside from the possibility of these eels surviving a Brooklyn winter, they are also widely adaptive. Eels can live out of water for two days and during droughts, they can survive for long periods of time by burrowing. An eel is a hermaphrodite: at the beginning of an eel’s life they are female, but as they progress they can turn into males. This incredibly unique feature can be useful when populations are threatened (in this case death among eels during the winter). When they breed, they lay up to 1000 eggs (National Parks Traveller) allowing the population to grow rapidly. Along with this, they are also camouflaged and blend in with their surroundings to prey on other local creatures.

Now how will this affect the Prospect Park’s lake environment? According to the Prospect Park Alliance, there are 14 species of fish and 6-8 species of reptiles and amphibians. The usual prey of the eel are invertebrates, fish, reptiles and amphibians– because of the eels’ lack of predators and Prospect Park being a good habitat for these creatures, the eels can thrive in the lake. Almost everytime I go to Prospect Park, the water is filled with turtles laying on their rocks with fish swimming below and ducks wading in the water. When the invasive eels are introduced, these calm creatures won’t be as bountiful.

Instead of the State Department of Environmental Conservation ignoring the situation, they should be taking control before this invasive eel becomes a real problem. The Conservation Department should find ways to slow the invasion by controlled measures such as electroshocking and rotenone poisoning. I hope that this winter will be a cold one and that these adaptable species don’t pose a threat to the park’s biodiversity, but that is a naive hope. Instead I call for the control of these species before they take control over the park’s lake.

– Ashleigh McDermott (in response to the October 19 article: “‘Big pile’ of eels dumped in Prospect Park Lake could threaten local ecosystem“)

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