Commentary

New hope for seahorse conservation 18 years after CITES listing- Part 2

I’m on a plane again - this time heading home. I’m excited to get there - my cousin is getting married this weekend and so there’s lots to celebrate. But truthfully I’ve already been celebrating! Just as my cousins will soon embark on a new chapter in their lives, so have seahorses embarked on a new chapter in our efforts toward their conservation under The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).

New hope for seahorse conservation 18 years after CITES listing

I still vividly remember finding out that all seahorses had been listed on CITES*  Appendix II. It was November 2002 and I was in Chicago, sitting in the lobby of the Shedd Aquarium (a long time Project Seahorse partner). My phone rang. It was Amanda Vincent, Project Seahorse director, calling me from Chile to tell me the proposal had received the 2/3 majority vote needed to be brought into force. I was early in my career and had not been involved with CITES for very long – but I knew this was something to get excited about.

The Three Seahorses of Biscayne National Part 2: A park under pressure

In part two of this three-part series, marine ecologist Emilie Stump reports on threats impacting seahorse habitats and populations in Biscayne National Park, with a focus on the relationship between land use and water quality and the commercial bait shrimp fishery.

A seahorse as prey - featured iSeahorse observation

By Kately Nikiforuk

May’s featured iSeahorse observation is a trio of jaw-dropping action shots, courtesy of user thumbwave (aka Craig Chaddock). The intrepid citizen scientist witnessed a great blue heron (Ardea herodias) pick up and immediately let go of a Pacific seahorse (Hippocampus ingens), which clutched its grassy holdfast throughout the ordeal. After the seahorse was dropped, Craig managed to capture the split second before it vanished beneath the water’s surface. From this novel angle, the seahorse almost looks like a mini Loch Ness monster. 

Seahorses, though predators themselves, are preyed upon by a wide range of animals. More than 80 species have been found with seahorses or pipefishes in their bellies. Examples of known seahorse snackers are loggerhead sea turtles, fairy penguins, skipjack tuna, spottail porgies and horn sharks. Because of their low abundance and meagre caloric value, predators probably feed on seahorses opportunistically, rather than being specialized to hunt them. Pacific seahorses, which are Vulnerable (IUCN Red List), are far more threatened by the shrimp trawling industry than by opportunistic predators such as great blue herons. 

So why was the heron’s catch released? Was it a slip of the beak or an outright rejection? Seahorses have bony plates instead of scales and aren’t very nutritious, so perhaps the bird simply didn’t have time for a crunchy, skimpy meal. Regardless of why this happened, there’s no question that these photos were impressively timed. Thanks for sharing with us, Craig! 

Learn more about seahorse predators here:  
Kleiber D., L.K. Blight, I.R. Caldwell, and A.C.J. Vincent. 2011. The importance of seahorses and pipefishes in the diet of marine animalsReviews in Fish Biology and Fisheries 21(2): 205-223.  DOI: 10.1007/s11160-010-9167-5

Patagonian seahorses send excited chills down my spine

I may have been shivering with cold, but my heart was leaping with excitement … I was face to face with the Patagonian seahorse, Hippocampus patagonicus, and it was magical. The species was only described in 2004 and is assessed as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List.

With applause comes responsibility 

In 2000, I was given one of the best awards in marine conservation, a Pew Fellowship.  It came with generous funding, which we applied towards work on non-food fisheries and towards obtaining the first global export controls on marine fishes (for seahorses) under CITES.  It also came with the most wonderful gift of a meeting each year.  But not your ordinary meeting…

Searching for clues in the catch and trade of seahorses in Viet Nam 

This story begins in 1995 with Amanda Vincent and Marivic Pajaro uncovering a global seahorse trade of more than 15 million animals per year. Until then Viet Nam was reportedly a supplier of dried seahorses but little was known about the nature or magnitude of the trade, not to mention the status of the seven species of seahorses found along the shores of Viet Nam. 

Do we need to ban bans? The case of the seahorse in India

Does banning the catch and trade of a species really help conservation efforts? This is the question that my research with Project Seahorse, Institute for the Oceans and Fisheries, The University of British Columbia (UBC), explores. I am studying the impact of catch and trade bans on the conservation of incidentally caught marine species, and the livelihoods dependent on them. To understand this, I use the case study of seahorses in India, where the fisheries are poorly regulated.

Reflecting on SyngBio, the global gathering for seahorse, pipefish & seadragon people

I’ve just had the most amazing week in Florida, filling my head with wonder and my heart with joy.  I wasn’t sure what to expect on my first International SyngBio meeting where hundreds of researchers and professionals from all over the world were set to meet in Tampa, Florida. After all, I am new to the Syngnathid world.