The New York City Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) recently hosted two dozen students from the Saint Clare School in Great Kills for the annual count of juvenile glass eels at Staten Island’s Richmond Creek Bluebelt in Richmondtown.
The American eel is born at sea, floats to the coast on prevailing currents and migrates to clean, healthy waterways along the east coast where they can live for up to 20 years. Eel populations are an important indicator of water quality and experts have seen a resurgence in the eel population in New York Harbor as testing shows the water is cleaner and healthier than it has been since the Civil War. Thus far in 2022, close to 2,000 glass eels have been counted in Richmond Creek.
“The annual eel count is a terrific opportunity for young New Yorkers to learn about the complex ecosystem that sustains many different species and the role we can play by maintaining clean and healthy waterways,” said DEP Chief Operating Officer Vincent Sapienza. “I’d like to thank the Saint Clare School for their continued assistance in monitoring the eel count in the Richmond Creek Bluebelt and I’m confident the experience will serve as a lasting reminder of the importance of environmental stewardship.”
Each spring eels arrive in estuaries like the Hudson River as translucent, two-inch long “glass eels.” As part of ongoing research, volunteers and students use a ten-foot cone-shaped net specifically designed to catch the eels and then count and release them back into the water. The 2022 eel monitoring program began at the end of February and will continue until the end of the eels’ migratory period, typically mid-May. Staten Island is one of 15 sites, ranging from New York City to Albany, where counts are taken as part of the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation’s Hudson River Eel Project.
In 2020, approximately 470 glass eels were observed in Richmond Creek and more than 405,000 were counted at the participating Hudson River Estuary monitoring sites. Eel populations had been in decline along the east coast of the United States for decades due to a combination of over fishing, water quality degradation, and man-made barriers to migration, such as dams.
On Staten Island, DEP has made substantial investments to build out the sewer system and connect thousands of homes to the City’s wastewater treatment plants, eliminating the need for septic tanks. Additionally, over the last 25 years DEP has built more than 70 Bluebelts across Staten Island with additional sites currently in construction and design.
The award-winning Bluebelt program preserves natural drainage corridors such as streams, creeks, and ponds, and optimizes them to help control and filter stormwater from surrounding neighborhoods. Currently, DEP is continuing construction on its $75 million expansion of the Bluebelt program in the Mid-Island. The work includes the $33 million “Gateway to the Bluebelt” project that will create a public viewing area and introduction to the rehabilitated New Creek wetlands and the $42 million expansion of the New Creek Bluebelt, which will create the largest wetland area in the entire Bluebelt system.
DEP manages New York City’s water supply, providing approximately 1 billion gallons of high-quality drinking water each day to nearly 10 million residents, including 8.8 million in New York City. The water is delivered from a watershed that extends more than 125 miles from the city, comprising 19 reservoirs and three controlled lakes. Approximately 7,000 miles of water mains, tunnels and aqueducts bring water to homes and businesses throughout the five boroughs, and 7,500 miles of sewer lines and 96 pump stations take wastewater to 14 in-city treatment plants. DEP also protects the health and safety of New Yorkers by enforcing the Air and Noise Codes and asbestos rules. For more information, visit nyc.gov/dep, like us on Facebook, or follow us on Twitter.
Banner Image: Students counting eels on Staten Island. Image Credit – NYC DEP