Citizen science for seahorse conservation

Project Seahorse has found a way to save more seahorses.

In 2013 we launched iSeahorse, a web tool and smartphone app that tackles the problem of seahorse conservation head-on by increasing the number of people committed to seahorses from a few scientists to, potentially, thousands citizen scientists and advocates

A diver studies a seahorse in the Ria Formosa estuary, Portugal. Iain Caldwell/Project Seahorse 

A diver studies a seahorse in the Ria Formosa estuary, Portugal. Iain Caldwell/Project Seahorse 

As the IUCN global authority on seahorses and their relatives, Project Seahorse generates the bulk of the world’s scientific research on these animals and their conservation, as well as catalyzing landmark trade protections and working with governments to make seahorse fisheries sustainable.

“We’ve made good progress on seahorses over the years,” says Dr. Sarah Foster, Project Seahorse’s Program Manager, “but we need a steady stream of information about seahorse populations to formulate effective conservation actions for them. We need to build a constituency of like-minded people to push for increased protection for them at the local, national, and regional levels.”



"Our goal is to create an
early global warning system
for seahorse conservation.”


The good news is that technology is making all of this possible.

The iSeahorse tool allows anyone, anywhere in the world to contribute by uploading their seahorses sightings to the iSeahorse database with a click of a mouse or tap on a smartphone. And with the help of iSeahorse’s Taking Action toolkit, they will be able to turn their data into action, advocating on behalf of threatened seahorse populations in their region.

Designed in collaboration with iNaturalist, one of the world’s leading citizen science platform developers, iSeahorse attracted considerable media attention and new users when it launched this past October.

Bruno Van Saen/Guylian Seahorses of the World

Bruno Van Saen/Guylian Seahorses of the World


“The early results are promising,” says Tyler Stiem, Project Seahorse’s Communications Manager and technical lead on the iSeahorse project. “We’ve received sightings from just about every corner of the globe, from Mexico to Mozambique. Our citizen scientists have logged hundreds of sightings, spotting 28 different species.”

Those species include the rarely seen giraffe seahorse (H. camelopardalis), West African seahorse (H. algiricus), and threatened Cape seahorse (H. capensis).

“iSeahorse data will help us to better understand seahorse behaviour, species ranges, and pressures. We’ll use this knowledge to improve conservation across the globe,” says Dr. Foster.

Phase two plans for iSeahorse include the development of a sophisticated, easy-to-use sentinel population monitoring tool, the first for any marine species. This will allow citizen scientists to track seahorse population trends over time and identify conservation hotspots. Their data will inform bespoke conservation plans for seahorses and their habitats. The iSeahorse tech platform will be shared widely to kickstart similar programs for other marine species.