SAVE THEM ALL: If only the Common Seahorse were actually common! In fact, this All-Star is listed as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List, coveted by practitioners of Chinese medicine, aquarium enthusiasts, and tourists who buy them as souvenirs. In 2001, an estimated 24 million seahorses were removed from the sea, an unsustainable take. Since 2004, the trade has been regulated by CITES, but illegal fishing still occurs, as well as accidental by-catch in shrimp-trawling. Moreover, Japan, Indonesia, South Korea, and Norway have refused to sign on to the CITES listing. Habitat loss is also a problem, since many species live in shallow waters that may be disturbed by development and fishing.
Biologically, seahorses are among the most fascinating and unusual creatures on the planet. The Common seahorse is found in Hawaii, Southeast Asia, Japan, and Australia, but seahorses were once common in most of the world’s oceans. They are the only species in which the male experiences a “true” pregnancy, developing a brood pouch in which the female deposits her eggs, which then develop in a placental fluid. After nearly a month, the male then gives birth, during the full moon. Seahorse couples are also unusual in forming permanent monogamous bonds.
Since the mid-1990s, Dr. Amanda Vincent, a Canadian specialist in seahorses and related pipefishes and seadragons, has spearheaded Project Seahorse, a marine conservation organization dedicated to improving conservation. After Vincent exposed the enormity of the seahorse industry, Project Seahorse, headquartered at the Fisheries Center of the University of British Columbia, has helped set up marine sanctuaries, relocated confiscated live animals, and helped governments around the world set up responsible policies and law enforcement programs. In the Phillipines, the organization helped set up an alliance of independent fishermen to enforce fishing laws and paid school fees for children of fishing families who completed marine conservation apprenticeships.
To help seahorses around the world, buy only fish and seafood that have been caught in a sustainable manner: Check out the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch pocket guide, available online, as purse-sized brochures, and as apps for the iPhone and other devices. Never buy shells, dried seahorses, or other curios and souvenirs from the sea. Project Seahorse accepts donations for research and for its high school apprenticeship program, as well as donations of used dive equipment, field guides, and other educational supplies.
Photo: © Dan Burton / naturepl.com