The West African seahorse- this month's highlight

September’s featured iSeahorse observation comes to us from the Island of São Tomé. Nuno Vasco Rodrigues spotted a group of five West African seahorses, Hippocampus algiricus, near a small island off the west coast of Gabon, West Africa. This species is one of two occurring in the eastern Atlantic Ocean off of Africa (the other being Hippocampus hippocampus). Project Seahorse has discovered, over the last 20 years, that seahorses are traded at high levels throughout West Africa. This species in particular has been documented in international trade, with an average of 700 000 individuals per year between 2004 and 2008.

Like other seahorses, the West African seahorse is caught as bycatch in trawl fisheries throughout its range, and fishers have reported declines in their catch. Increasingly, artisanal fishers are also exploiting the species. Combined with habitat degradation (again due to trawling), fishing pressures have led to a substantial decline and thus a listing as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. The international trade of seahorses is regulated by CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora). All species of seahorse are listed on Appendix II of CITES, meaning that although trade is not banned, it is monitored. Countries with substantial trade in the species are required to submit ‘Non-detriment Findings’ or NDFs to CITES to prove the trade does not harm wild populations.

Observations like this one by Nuno help us get a firm idea of the species’ true range, their habitat type, and numbers over time, all of which inform IUCN Red List assessments and CITES trade regulation in the hopes of protecting the species. Thanks again to Nuno for posting this interesting observation from São Tomé!

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