Dr. Amanda Vincent named to IUCN Species Survival Commission Steering Committee

Dr. Amanda Vincent, Professor and Director of Project Seahorse, in UBC's Institute for the Oceans and Fisheries, has been appointed the the Steering Committee of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Species Survival Commission (SSC). She will serve as the Committee’s global marine expert, and will also Chair its Marine Conservation Subcommittee.

Project Seahorse presents: 'Seahorses' an art exhibit by Xavier Cortada

Project Seahorse presents an exhibit by Miami-based artist Xavier Cortada, as the launch event for its “Seahorses: Magical Creatures in Our Backyard” outreach initiative.

What: "Seahorses" - an exhibit opening by Xavier Cortada - https://seahorses.eventbrite.ca

When: Thursday, April 6, 2017 at 6:00 – 8:00pm

Where: Pinecrest Gardens, 11000 S Red Rd., Pinecrest, FL 33156

Why: Xavier Cortada opens his exhibit “Seahorses” at Pinecrest Gardens; Project Seahorse launches their “Seahorses: Magical Creatures in Our Backyard” initiative; the event will build awareness about seahorses and other syngnathids in South Florida and Biscayne National Park and inspire residents of Miami-Dade County to take action to protect the park and their oceans. Charismatic symbols of the seagrasses, mangroves, reefs and estuaries they call home, seahorses are flagship species for a wide range of marine conservation issues in Biscayne National Park.

Interview opportunities:

Xavier Cortada, artist

Dr. Amanda Vincent, Director, Project Seahorse (available by phone)

Emilie Stump, Project Seahorse MSc. student; project officer for Seahorses: Magical Creatures in Our Backyard

For more information, or to schedule interviews, please contact Regina Bestbier at r.bestbier@projectseahorse.org


Xavier Cortada

Xavier Cortada serves as Artist-in-Residence at FIU School of Environment, Arts and Society and the College of Communication, Architecture + The Arts.  The Miami artist has created environmental installations (North Pole and South Pole), eco-art projects (Taiwan, Hawaii and Holland), and community murals addressing peace (Cyprus and Northern Ireland), child welfare (Bolivia and Panama), AIDS (Switzerland and South Africa) and juvenile justice concerns (Miami and Philadelphia). Cortada has developed multi-year participatory eco-art efforts to reforest mangrovesnative trees and wildflowers across Florida. See www.cortada.com for more information. 

Project Seahorse

Project Seahorse is a marine conservation group based at the University of British Columbia’s Institute for the Oceans and Fisheries and at the Zoological Society of London. Project Seahorse works to protect seahorses to support ocean conservation more broadly, generating cutting-edge research and using it to inform highly effective conservation interventions.

Herbert W. Hoover Foundation
This campaign is made possible through the generous support of the Herbert W. Hoover Foundation. The Herbert W. Hoover Foundation takes a leadership role in funding unique opportunities that provide solutions to issues related to the community, education, and the environment.

Fantastical Fishes: Seahorses, Pipefishes and Seadragons into the Future

SyngBIO 2017, the third meeting of researchers and other professionals working to understand the unique biology and conservation of Syngnathid fishes (seahorses, pipefishes, pipehorses, and seadragons) will be held May 14-19, 2017 in Tampa, Florida (USA) (hosted by The University of Tampa and co-hosted by Project Seahorse).  

Find out more and also register here

Fantastical Fishes: Seahorses, Pipefishes and Seadragons into the Future” is our theme this year. Keynote, oral and poster presentations will embrace several aspects of seahorse, pipefish and seadragon biology, including: physiology, phylogenetics, phylogeography, genomics, sexual selection and mating systems, behavior, syngnathid breeding programs and aquaculture, and conservation and management. Attendees typically include almost 200 scientists, educators, aquarium professionals, graduate/undergraduate students, and government officials dedicated to understanding and protecting the unique biology of seahorses, pipefishes and seadragons.  Come join us!

Stunning hedgehog seahorse is the Guylian Seahorses of the World winner!

Grand prize winner, Hedgehog seahorse (H. spinosissimus). Photo by Luc Eeckhaut/Guylian SOTW

Grand prize winner, Hedgehog seahorse (H. spinosissimus). Photo by Luc Eeckhaut/Guylian SOTW

Project Seahorse is pleased to announce the results of this year’s Guylian Seahorses of the World Photography Competition. Congratulations to Luc Eeckhaut, our 2016 winner! His stunning snapshot of a Hedgehog seahorse (Hippocampus spinosissimus) features a boldly hued sea squirt, the blue bell tunicate (Clavelina moluccensis). Eeckhaut’s winning photograph was unveiled at the NELOS International Underwater Photo & Video Festival held on November 26th in Oostende, Belgium. The Seahorses of the World category is sponsored by Guylian Chocolates, who are renowned for their commitment to conservation and their decadent hazelnut praline filling.

This contest provides a platform for all underwater photographers, from fledgling ocean enthusiasts to seasoned aquatic artists, to showcase their talent while raising awareness of the plight of these fabulous fish. Winning photos were selected based on a variety of criteria, most notably their scientific and artistic value.  

This year, the Guylian Seahorses of the World Photography Competition consisted of two divisions, the Grand Prize and the Public Prize. The Grand Prize winners were determined by a panel of experts in the fields of underwater photography and seahorse biology. The Public Prize allowed people to vote online for their favourite submissions, and the most popular pictures were shortlisted for further evaluation by the adjudicators. 

Luc Eeckhaut, who hails from Belgium, was presented with the 1st Place Grand Prize, a Scubapro Chromis watch and 500 euros for the purchase of diving equipment. The 2nd Place Prize was a Scubapro regulator bag and 200 euros, awarded to Bruno Van Saen of Belgium. In 3rd Place was Gino Symus, also from Belgium, who earned a Scubapro microfiber towel and 50 euros. 

Second place Grand Prize, Spotted seahorse (H. kuda). Photo by Bruno van Saen/Guylian SOTW

Second place Grand Prize, Spotted seahorse (H. kuda). Photo by Bruno van Saen/Guylian SOTW

Third place Grand Prize, Hedgehog seahorse (H. spinosissimus). Photo by Gino Symus/Guylian SOTW

Third place Grand Prize, Hedgehog seahorse (H. spinosissimus). Photo by Gino Symus/Guylian SOTW

As for the Public Prize winners, each won a stash of Guylian’s coveted confectioneries worth 20-50 euros. The Public Prize recipients were Rui Palma (Portugal, 1st Place), Tom Van Hout (Belgium, 2nd Place), Jef Driesen (Belgium, 3rd Place), Danny Van Belle (Belgium, 4th Place) and Arco de Man (Netherlands, 5th Place). Competitors who didn’t win formal prizes were eligible to receive a Guylian gift bag if they attended the NELOS Festival.

First place Public Prize.  Long-snouted seahorse (H. guttulatus). Photo by Rui Palma/Guylian SOTW

First place Public Prize.  Long-snouted seahorse (H. guttulatus). Photo by Rui Palma/Guylian SOTW

Second place Public Prize.  Pontoh's seahorse (H. pontohi). Photo by Tom van Hout/Guylian SOTW

Second place Public Prize.  Pontoh's seahorse (H. pontohi). Photo by Tom van Hout/Guylian SOTW

Third place Public Prize.  Bargibant's pygmy seahorse (H. bargibanti). Photo by Jef Driesen/Guylian SOTW

Third place Public Prize.  Bargibant's pygmy seahorse (H. bargibanti). Photo by Jef Driesen/Guylian SOTW

A huge thank you to all participants for your wonderful contributions! This contest is invaluable to seahorse conservation, as photography is a potent medium for fostering respect for aquatic life. Guylian Seahorses of the World provides Project Seahorse with rights to the entrants’ pictures, which can help further seahorse research, education, outreach and conservation. By capturing these magical animals on camera, the public is offered a tangible connection to what we stand to lose if maintaining marine biodiversity isn’t a priority. 

View all the submissions in the Guylian photo gallery:  http://seahorses.guylian.com
You can also find many of the current and previous Seahorses of the World entries on iSeahorse.org, Project Seahorse’s citizen science initiative.

Announcing the 2016 Guylian Seahorses of the World Photo Competition

Winner of the 2014 Seahorses of the World photo competition.  Hippocampus denise by Els van den Borre

Winner of the 2014 Seahorses of the World photo competition.  Hippocampus denise by Els van den Borre

The Guylian Seahorses of the World photo competition is back! We’re pleased to announce that Guylian Belgian Chocolate, one of Project Seahorse’s key sponsors, and NELOS-Festival, are once again hosting the Guylian Seahorses of the World Photo Competition!

Send in your best seahorse pictures (by November 8th 2016 at midnight, CET) for your chance to win a Scubapro Chromis watch and 500 EURO and have your photos exhibited at Europe's best underwater video and photography festival.

Your submissions will be evaluated by a professional jury of underwater photographers and scientists. To find out more, visit the competition website.

Every entrant will receive a gift bag filled with Guylian Belgian chocolates worth 20 euros, to be collected at the Festival in CC De Grote Post, zaal Dactylo, Hendrik Serruyslaan 18A, Oostende on November 26, 2016. The competition winner will also be announced at this event. 

By entering the competition, not only do you get a chance to win great prizes, you provide Project Seahorse with valuable research material for scientific and educational projects! The final competition jury consists of an esteemed international panel of photographers and conservationists, who will judge all entries based on their artistic and scientific value.

Also, don't forget to join iSeahorse, Project Seahorse's 'citizen science’ initiative that uses your seahorse photos and sightings to improve seahorse science and conservation.

Please be extremely careful not to destroy or disturb in any way marine fauna and flora while photographing. 

Guylian Belgian Chocolate has been an important Project Seahorse partner since 1999. In addition to generous financial support for our work, Guylian engages in raising awareness about conservation with targeted PR campaigns. Click here for more details.

Project Seahorse work leads to huge international change, as Thailand announces it is suspending seahorse exports

Story originally posted on UBC’s Institute for the Oceans and Fisheries

Project Seahorse*, a marine conservation research unit based at The University of British Columbia’s Institute for the Oceans and Fisheries, is applauding Thailand’s decision to end seahorse exports until it can trade in a sustainable manner, without damaging their wild populations. We spoke to Dr. Amanda Vincent, Director, Project Seahorse and Professor, Institute for the Oceans and Fisheries about the decision.

Thailand has announced it is suspending seahorse exports. What does this mean?
Thailand is by far the world’s largest exporter of wild seahorses, representing 90% of the trade. What they announced at today’s CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) meeting is that they have decided to suspend all of its international trade in these quirky fishes until it can sort out an effective, sustainable way to sell them abroad without damaging their wild populations.  This trade suspension means that the country will stop exporting seahorses, probably for several years, but will one day return to international trade in seahorses.

What role did Project Seahorse play in achieving this trade ban?
The Project Seahorse team, based at UBC and with its partner, the Zoological Society of London, played a major role in assisting Thailand to tackle this important conservation issue head on. We lead seahorse research, conservation, policy, and management around the world, and were the first to discover the nature and scale of the seahorse trade in Thailand, alerting the world as to its conservation implications, and generating global restrictions on seahorse trade. Our work on the international level has been pioneering; we are the globally recognized expert group on 350 species of fish (seahorses, pipefishes, sea dragons and their relatives), and we worked with CITES to develop the first ever global trade agreement regulations the export of marine fishes.

At the request of CITES, Project Seahorse worked with Thailand’s Department of Fisheries on tools and approaches for export management, as well as studying Thailand’s seahorse populations, fisheries and trades. Meeting CITES recommendations on the complex and very large trade in these animals was a big challenge, and we understand why Thailand has decided that a trade suspension would allow it more time to get export regulations right. Now we are eager to help Thailand obtain what it needs in terms of tools, resources, and support to manage seahorse exports sustainably.

How large is the international trade in seahorses?
It is large and complex, estimated at more than tens of millions of individuals per year, involving more than 80 countries, and more than 41 species. The majority of exports come from Southeast Asia or West Africa, with Mainland China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan as the primary importers. Seahorses are used primarily in dried form for traditional medicine, live in ornamental aquarium displays, and as curios and souvenirs.

Thailand is by far the world’s most significant exporter of seahorses; the source of more than three-quarters of the seahorse in international trade each year. Official CITES data show that Thailand has exported about 5 million animals per year since 2004, all of them dried and all of them wild. Our analysis of Thailand’s fisheries suggests the real numbers are actually much higher.

Hippocampus kuda, Spotted seahorse. Photo by Lindsay Aylesworth/Project Seahorse

Hippocampus kuda, Spotted seahorse.
Photo by Lindsay Aylesworth/Project Seahorse

Which species will be impacted by this move?
Seven species of seahorses inhabit Thailand’s national waters. Five have been recorded in trade, and four (Hippocampus kelloggi,, Hippocampus kuda, Hippocampus spinosissimus,and Hippocampus trimaculatus) dominate global trade volumes. All will be affected.

What is the biggest risk to the seahorse population in Thailand?
Seahorses are caught directly, for the live trade, but that is only a small part of the fishery. Thai fishers capture the great majority of seahorses by accident, brought up in non-selective fishing gears such as trawls and gillnets. Bottom trawls, in particular, are very damaging and destructive. They scrape the ocean floor, taking everything in their path. About 85-95% of the weight in trawl nets is marine life they didn’t mean to catch. Actually, some trawl fisheries have given up even targeting any particular species and just grab what they can get.

We are heartened that Thailand has recognized that these non-selective gears are causing ecosystem damage, as well as impacting their fisheries. They are, thankfully, stopping the trade so that they can develop action plans that will better manage not just the future of the seahorse trade, but also the catches that Thai fisheries depend on as a source of income.

So you want to re-open the trade? Why is Project Seahorse promoting sustainable use instead of an outright ban?
Generally speaking, sustainable use offers more potential for long-term conservation. While bans certainly have their uses, they are not a panacea. One often has to deal with ensuing illegal catch and trade, and with angry fishers and traders. After all, fisheries are of great economic importance. It is better for both wildlife and people to seek a balance between safeguarding a species or space and using it as a resource. People who depend on a resource can become marvelous guardians. Moreover, having their buy-in is vital to stimulate compliance with regulations; enforcement of unpopular management decisions is very problematic, and commonly fails.

*Project Seahorse acts as the IUCN SSC Seahorse, Pipefish and Stickleback Specialist Group (SPS SG).

More stories on this...

IUCN: IUCN behind major advance for seahorse conservation
National Geographic: Thailand suspends exports of seahorses
Washington Post: Thailand suspends seahorse trade amid conservation concerns


2000+ observations on iSeahorse !

Hippocampus bargibanti, Bargibant’s pygmy seahorse. Photo by iSeahorse user sorcrs.

Hippocampus bargibanti, Bargibant’s pygmy seahorse. Photo by iSeahorse user sorcrs.

Great news!!  This summer we reached our 2000th seahorse observation on iSeahorse  - our pioneering citizen science website and smartphone app that allows anyone to contribute to the science and conservation of seahorses.

Observation 2000 is one of Hippocampus bargibanti, Bargibant’s pygmy seahorse. It comes to us from one of the hotspots for iSeahorse contributions, the northeastern tip of Sulawesi, Indonesia. Posted by iSeahorse user sorcrs, it’s a great shot of the pygmy seahorse on its obligate host gorgonian coral.

As we surpass 2000 seahorse observations, we look back at what our citizen science program has accomplished so far. Since launching in late 2013, iSeahorse and the contributing users have generated a great deal of new knowledge about seahorses and engaged people worldwide with marine conservation. iSeahorse has now accumulated data for 36 of 41 seahorse species, while engaging some 428 unique observers, many of whom have contributed multiple observations.  User-contributed observations on iSeahorse have greatly expanded the known ranges of several seahorses, including an expansion of several hundred kilometres for Hippocampus sindonis, 1000 km for Hippocampus comes, and a huge expansion of more than 4000 km for Hippocampus pontohi. We are also learning much about the depth ranges and habitat preferences of all the species observed, which will contribute to conservation planning efforts in the near future.

Most importantly, we hope that iSeahorse has helped to instill a sense of wonder and compassion for the health of wild seahorses and their ocean homes that are so critical to our planetary well-being. None of what we’ve learned so far would have been possible without our contributors, so many thanks to everyone who posted one of our more than 2000 observations to date.


Project Seahorse at #IMCC4

Project Seahorse is well represented at the International Marine Conservation Congress taking place from July 30th to August 3rd in St. John’s, Newfoundland, Canada.  
Below is a listing of where you can find us!

Sun July 31, 11:00 - 13:00, Salon E (C19 - Fisheries, aquaculture and the oceans)
12:15 Ting-Chun Kuo and Lindsay Aylesworth - Quantifying fishers' catch rates: exploring recall bias in reporting time slices  
Fisher interviews are commonly used as a means to understand the status of the fishery when other datasets are unavailable. However, how reliable are reported quantified data such as catch rates? Using interview data from commercial trawl and small-scale gillnet fishers in Thailand, we explored the potential for varying recall bias in fishers' reported catch rates of seahorses (as memorable species) across different slices of time (e.g., day, fishing trip, month). Our hypothesis was that if such recall bias exists, catch rate reported based on different time slices would vary at the levels of both the individual fisher and the fisher population. We found for both gear types that when fishers reported on a shorter time slice (haul, day), annual catch estimates were significantly higher than when they reported on a longer time slice (month, year). The high levels of variation in our catch rates resulted in great uncertainty of estimating the seahorse catch. However, the validations of reported catch rates with external datasets were inconclusive. As a result, we reported both the median and mean catch estimates to account for the highly skewed distribution of our data. Our research highlights the shorter time slices lead to higher annual catch estimates and have strong implications for fisheries management of data-poor species. 

Mon Aug 1, 3:45, Salon G (c24 - Fisheries, aquaculture and the oceans)
Danika Kleiber - The invisible walking fishers: gleaning, gender, food security, and marine spatial management
Gleaning is an ancient form of fishing practiced throughout the world-the act of catching or collecting marine species in intertidal habitats. Gleaning is often left out of fisheries and marine conservation research, in part because of narrow understanding of fishing as something that happens in boats, and in part because it is often done by women and other marginalized groups. To examine the importance of gleaning this research examines the gendered, economic and food security aspects of gleaning in the Central Philippines. In this area gleaners were predominantly women, and more likely to be fishers that retained all their catch for family consumption. Gleaners were also more likely to be from families that had lower food security, and from communities with larger intertidal areas suitable for gleaning. Gleaners also targeted invertebrates, and their catch contributed substantially to both their total estimated weekly income from fishing (13%), and to total weekly edible biomass that was retained for family consumption (27%). Gleaning also produced smaller but more reliable catch than other fishing methods. The reliability of gleaning, and the reports that gleaning was often done when other forms of fishing are unavailable contribute to its importance as a source of food security. This research highlights the importance of gleaning to food security, and livelihood strategies, and the need to include gleaners in community-based marine spatial management efforts.

Tues Aug 2, 8:30-10:30 (FG85) Canada's policies on marine species at risk, past and future Join Amanda Vincent, John Reynolds, Julia Baum, Brett Favaro, Isabelle Cote and Susanna Fuller to generate vital collective action for marine species at risk in Canada. 

We will explore Canada’s history with, and help define Canada’s future for, marine species at risk.  

The focus group will allow participants to explore the challenges for marine species at risk and develop ideas to help create the political and policy changes needed to provide better support for Canada’s marine life.  

We will then take these ideas forward to effect change in Canada’s use of policy instruments for marine species conservation. 

Tues Aug 2, 11:00-13:00 (SY 51)  Beyond engagement: turning citizen science findings into conservation and policy action (Vancouver Aquarium with Project Seahorse are the organisers).
12:00 Chai Apale - Citizen Science is helping save Philippines seahorses and their seas
 iSeahorse is designed to put the power of marine conservation in the hands of local citizens throughout the world, wherever seahorses are found. The program provides a platform for individuals and groups to contribute information on seahorse sightings, and supports them in using the data they (and others) collect to advocate for conservation gains on behalf of seahorses and their marine environments. In order to kick-start iSeahorse, we secured funding to employ a national iSeahorse champion in the Philippines for two years. Her work enabled iSeahorse contributors to make measurable and important conservation gains for seahorses and their marine habitats: (1) iSeahorse was the catalyst for the creation of a new marine sanctuary in Bohol where a local dive organization used iSeahorse data to petitioned for protection of valuable, yet threatened, seahorse habitat; (2) the Filipino government used data from iSeahorse to develop an action plan in support of sustainable seahorse fisheries and trades; and (3) there is now a larger and more engaged constituency supporting seahorse and marine conservation in the Philippines through iSeahorse collaboration with individuals, communities and institutions. That said, it has sometimes been difficult to engage fishers as contributors, because of legal issues, poor access to technology and the need to incentivize contributions. Nonetheless, thanks to iSeahorse, Filipino seahorses and seas are better protected.    

Wed 3 Aug, 8:30 -10:30 (SY20) Making bad better: Advancements in trawl fisheries research and mitigation.   
This symposium aims to highlight advancements in our understanding of the impacts of trawl fisheries and how they can be better managed, seeking commonalities in process that can provide insight into how to better manage even the worst examples. One of the greatest challenges facing both fisheries management and marine conservation today is how to regulate and therefore reduce the impact of the world’s bottom trawl fisheries. 

Bottom trawling is a very common fishing practice in much of the world, providing (with dredging) about a quarter of the world’s fish catch and half of the invertebrates. Many of the world’s bottom trawl fisheries are far from well-managed, particularly in areas such as southeast Asia where they are sustained only by perverse subsidies. Making matters worse, many of the trawls are working to extract any and all life, without discretion or distinction. 

Solutions to this global problem seem untenable, but researchers have made considerable process in understanding the extent and impact of trawl fisheries, as well as approaches and methods for mitigating impact. This symposium will bring together these stories – on biomass fishing, trawl impacts on threatened species, as well as recent advancements in understanding impact and mitigation –seeking insight into how to improve practices in the rest of the world. 

While Sarah Foster and Amanda Vincent are the organisers they are also presenting the following talks: 

8:30 Amanda Vincent - Addressing annihilation trawling and the associated environmental and human rights abuses

8:45 Sarah Foster - Small bycatch of a small fish add up to a lot

Wed 3 Aug, 4:14, Salon C (part of the Marine Policy theme on that day)  
Lindsay Aylesworth  - Taking a dose of our own medicine: implementing conservation policy for marine fishes
What happens when we force ourselves, as providers of conservation advice, to take policy and management action based on that advice?   Conservation advocates and scientists often initiate regulatory change that has significant implications for government but seldom experience the challenge of responding to such change.  In this case study, we place ourselves in the role of the government of Thailand, facing its obligations to seahorses (Hippocampus spp.) under the Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species (CITES).   Our team’s evaluations had led CITES to issue direct recommendations to Thailand for remedial action to ensure that its exports of four seahorse species do not damage wild populations. We ran through a CITES-prescribed framework (that we developed) to evaluate the risk to two of these species from various pressures and determine whether appropriate management was enforced and is currently effective.  Three core questions emerged: 1) what pressures are putting wild populations of the species at risk; 2) is management in place to mitigate the risk or offset those pressures; and 3) are the species responding as hoped to the management policy.   Using two key species, we identified risk above a tolerated level for exports of H. trimaculatus because there was a lack of appropriate management in place to mitigate risks.  We also determined risk was tolerable for exports of H. kuda but only with monitoring in place to evaluate how the species was responding to management. Under CITES regulations, exports of both species would be prohibited until more precautionary management emerged.  We found the process of such evaluations to be challenging, even without the obligation to consider social implications of our evaluations.  It became apparent that such evaluations will always be imperfect but this may be acceptable in the context of adaptive management. Conservationists will do well to keep in mind these challenges in their advice and advocacy.  

For more details look at the IMCC program 

New Collaborative Action On Philippines Seahorse Trade

This was originally posted World Ocean’s Day, 8 June 2016 on the IUCN’s SOS (Save Our Species) blog.

Hippocampus histrix. Photo by Bettina Balnis/Guylian Seahorses of the World

Hippocampus histrix. Photo by Bettina Balnis/Guylian Seahorses of the World

The Philippines government now has a plan to move toward sustainable seahorse fisheries and trade, thanks to a successful consultative forum held in March in Cebu, according to Dr. Sarah Foster, Programme Manager with Project Seahorse, an SOS grantee.

This is one small but important conservation success to share on World Oceans Day as we struggle to balance the problems of overfishing, international wildlife trade and sustainable livelihoods worldwide.

The forum’s main output – a government-led action plan for developing and implementing adaptive management for seahorse exploitation and trade in the Philippines- is a critical step in moving toward successful implementation of the newly revised Philippines fisheries law.

“This new law, which came into effect in the autumn of 2015, re-opens the door to the legal catch and trade of seahorses. These are activities that had been illegal, but ongoing, in the Philippines since 2004 because of a blanket ban on fishing and trade in response to the listing of seahorses on Appendix II of CITES ”, explains Foster.

A listing on Appendix II of the Convention of International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) means that  trade can continue but must be regulated to ensure it is sustainable. However, undocumented and uncontrolled fishing and trade of seahorses have continued in the Philippines, in spite of the ban, adds Foster. “Untrammeled trade is a concern for us as seven of the Philippine seahorse species are listed as threatened on the IUCN Red List”, says Foster. ”The other three are categorized as Data Deficient – they may also be threatened but we don’t know enough to assess their status” she adds. Regulating their trade will help with effective conservation for all species in the longer-term.

The future legalisation of seahorse exploitation and trade in the Philippines could be positive for both seahorses and the people that earn income from them – but only if such activities do not harm wild populations. Legal take and trade means that the activities can be monitored and managed, as opposed to continuing underground. Legalisation may also mean improved access to markets for some of the world’s poorest fishers. But preventing harm to seahorses, and ensuring sustainable fisheries well into the future, requires seahorse management and monitoring – neither of which are ongoing in the Philippine at this time.

The new fisheries law has provisions for legal fishing and trade in CITES Appendix II species. What remains is to reconcile this new law with the mechanics of CITES in terms of the acceptable thresholds at which international trade (hopefully derived from managed take) should be allowed. The target for re-opening the fisheries and export of seahorses is the end of 2018, but this will depend on the Philippines’ capacity to properly manage those activities at that time, says Foster.

This forum (co-organized by Project Seahorse, the Zoological Society of London-Philippines, and the Philippines’ Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources) brought together more than 40 stakeholders from government, academia, inter-governmental organisations (IGOs), non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and industry to increase national capacity for the management and monitoring of seahorses in the Philippines.

Such a level of engagement is most encouraging. According to Prof. Amanda Vincent, Chair of the IUCN SSC Specialist Group on Seahorses, Pipefishes, and Sticklebacks, “the forum has sown the seeds to create serious support for marine life that the Philippines exports under CITES. In so doing, the Philippines will become one of the world’s leaders in seahorse conservation.”

That is news worth sharing on World Oceans Day!