SAVING SEAHORSES

Making trade sustainable in West Africa and the Indo-Pacific

In 2002, Project Seahorse helped to generate landmark trade protections for seahorses and their relatives under the UN Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). Currently encompassing 175 countries around the world, this important agreement was the critical first step toward a sustainable global seahorse trade.

 
 
Drs. Vincent and Koldewey examining dried seahorse specimens. Amanda Vincent/Project Seahorse 

Drs. Vincent and Koldewey examining dried seahorse specimens. Amanda Vincent/Project Seahorse 

“The challenge with CITES,” says Dr. Amanda Vincent, Director of Project Seahorse, “is that every country that signs on to the agreement does so voluntarily. They want to be seen as good global citizens who are doing the right thing. As such, you have to work closely and carefully with them, making sure they understand what’s at stake if they don’t protect their endangered species.”

Vigilant monitoring is key, and that’s where Project Seahorse’s team of trade detectives comes in. Every year we turn our trade research and analyses into policy recommendations and technical advice to governments and international bodies such as CITES and the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN)’s Red List of Threatened Species.

 
 

 

Vigilant monitoring is key,
and that's where Project Seahorse's
team of trade detectives comes in.
 

 

Through our study of the biology, ecology, life history, and trade volumes of seahorses, we have identified a number species of particular concern in the Indo-Pacific, where countries such as Thailand export millions of animals every year, and in West Africa, an emerging market.

“At the moment, we’re particularly interested in Hippocampus algiricus, the West African seahorse. Our research shows that number of animals in trade has risen dramatically over the past few years, to exports of about 600,000 seahorses annually.”

 

 
Eulalio Guib/Project Seahorse

Eulalio Guib/Project Seahorse

 


In 2011, Dr. Vincent brought our analysis to the CITES Animal Committee, which convenes annually to advise governments on technical issues related to protecting animals under the Convention. Based on our recommendations, seven seahorse species have been designated for special attention over the past two years, among them the heavily traded long-nosed seahorse (H. trimaculatus), hedgehog seahorse (H. spinosissimus), and great seahorse (H. kelloggi).

“Thanks to our recommendations,” says Dr. Vincent, “countries all over the world have been asked about the scientific information that justifies their exports of seahorses, with a particular focus on nations in the IndoPacific and West African nations such as Senegal, Gambia, and Guinea.” Further trade research in Senegal and Guinea is planned for 2012.


Further reading