A Blacktip Island ground eel crawls past a game camera in a Blacktip Island mahogany grove Thursday evening. A sudden uptick in eel numbers has the Caribbean island’s tourism industry concerned about their impact on hotel bookings. (photo courtesy of Blacktip Island Chamber of Commerce)
A surge in the Blacktip Island ground eel population has island residents on edge and guests panicking this week, causing local businesses to scramble for ways to combat the creatures.
“Ground eels are incredibly rare. We know little about them,” said Goby Graysby, marine biology chairman at Tiperon University-Blacktip. “They’re akin to aquatic morays, but adapted to breath air. This is the first time there’s been a population explosion like this, and we have no idea what caused it.
“The problem is, they’re slimy, they’re smelly and they get into everything. And now there’s a ton of them,” Graysby said. “They’re like hagfish on steroids and can wiggle under doors, down vents and up toilets. They’re normally a solitary species, but in numbers this large, apparently, they can be problematic.”
Island hoteliers say the creatures are wreaking havoc among tourists.
“The eels love sunscreen. And hair gel,” said Sandy Bottoms Beach Resort manager Kay Valve. “They gobble the stuff up and look for more. Most locals don’t use that crap, so for us it’s not so bad. Resort guests, though, they can’t sleep or eat or even sit by the pool and read.
“God help you if you have sunscreen on you,” Valve said. “Yesterday a swarm of eels got on one of our docked dive boats and gnawed everyone raw. We have guests cancelling left and right. And the sunburns have been horrific.”
Departing visitors at the island’s airstrip agreed.
“We expected mosquitos and flies and ants and scorpions, but these eels threw us one hell of a curveball,” said Eagle Ray Cove guest Harry Blenny. “They wormed into our room last night and ate everything in my Dopp kit. And what they did to my wife’s hair while she was sleeping! We had to shave it all off. We’re leaving and never coming back!”
Some locals say the problem is a decline in the eels’ natural predator.
“The mersquatch usually keeps them in check,” said longtime resident Molly Miller. “What we need is a second mersquatch. Or a livelier one.”
The Chamber of Commerce has declared an island-wide state of emergency.
“We put a bounty out on the suckers,” Mayor Jack Cobia said. “Problem is, they’re damned hard to catch, or kill, because they’re so slimy. And nocturnal.
“We got teams in headlamps hunting them with sticks and machetes and golf clubs, but those eels’re damned savvy,” Cobia said. “Shine a light on them, they slither off right quick, leave you clubbing slime trails.”
Island scientists, meanwhile, hope to capture some of the elusive creatures for study.
“We keep setting traps, but the eels can get out of about anything,” Graysby said. “And the few we have caught slip out of any container we put them in. Mason jar with holes punched in it for air? They’ll screw the top off from the inside – they generate that much torque.”