Researchers from Project Seahorse today released the first-ever footage of a little-known seahorse species.
The video, filmed off the coast of Senegal, shows a West African seahorse (Hippocampus algiricus) being caught and released by local fishers. The animal swims away, unharmed.
[You can watch all of the footage here.]
The footage is part of a joint investigation between Project Seahorse, Imperial College London, and theZoological Society of London (ZSL) into West Africa’s burgeoning seahorse trade. Researcher Kate West was travelling on a local fishing boat off the Atlantic coast when she spotted several seahorses pulled up in a trap.
“The fishers caught two animals, and one of them I didn’t recognize at first. After examining them, I convinced the fishers to release the seahorses back into the wild,” says West.
Further study confirmed the species as Hippocampus algiricus, or the West African seahorse.
“The West African seahorse is one of two native species caught locally for export around the world. Essentially no research has been done on this species, and nothing is known about its habitat, life cycle, or numbers,” West adds.
Project Seahorse research to date indicates that the number of West African seahorses in trade has risen dramatically over the past few years, to exports of about 600,000 seahorses annually. They are used primarily in traditional Chinese medicine.
“In recent years, the West African seahorse has become highly sought, along with many other seahorse species. Our fieldwork — the first ever study of this species — is revealing the fishing and trade pressures they face, and how populations can be sustained,” says Dr. Amanda Vincent, Director of Project Seahorse and Associate Professor at UBC.
A leading expert on seahorses, Vincent first uncovered the thriving global seahorse trade in the mid-1990s and co-founded Project Seahorse in response. The team’s efforts resulted in the Convention on Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) adopting international trade controls for seahorses in 2002.
“Importantly, our findings will be shared with the Senegalese and other governments so they can meet their CITES obligations to ensure that the seahorse trade is sustainable,” adds Chris Ransom, West and North Africa Programme Manager at ZSL. “Together we will help seahorse populations to thrive.”
The joint UBC-ZSL-Imperial College London research will continue into 2013.
This project is generously supported by the People’s Trust for Endangered Species and Mohamed bin Zayed Species Conservation Fund and an Erasmus Darwin Barlow Expedition award. Project Seahorse benefits from a marine conservation partnership with Guylian Belgian Chocolate and John G. Shedd Aquarium, Chicago.
ABOUT THE WEST AFRICAN SEAHORSE
- The West African seahorse is found primarily along West Africa’s Atlantic coast and Gulf of Guinea, from Senegal to Cote d’Ivoire. Sightings have been confirmed as far south as Democratic Republic of Congo and Angola.
- The maximum recorded adult height of the species is 19 cm. Virtually nothing is currently known about its habitat and life history.
- The West African seahorse is thought to be a ulnerable species, but its true numbers are currently unknown. It is listed as ‘Data Deficient’ on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.
- Species profile is available here.
ABOUT THE PARTNERS
Project Seahorse is a marine conservation group based at the University of British Columbia, Canada, and Zoological Society of London. Project Seahorse works to protect seahorses in order to support ocean conservation more broadly, generating cutting-edge research and using it to inform highly effective conservation interventions. Led by Dr. Amanda Vincent and Dr. Heather Koldeway, both global experts on seahorse conservation, Project Seahorse has won many international awards and honours, and works in collaboration with researchers, governments, conservation groups and local communities worldwide.
Zoological Society of London
Founded in 1826, the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) is an international scientific, conservation and educational charity: the key role is the conservation of animals and their habitats. The Society runs ZSL London Zoo and ZSL Whipsnade Zoo, carries out scientific research in the Institute of Zoology and is actively involved in field conservation in other countries worldwide. For further information please visit www.zsl.org.
Imperial College London
Consistently rated amongst the world's best universities, Imperial College London is a science-based institution with a reputation for excellence in teaching and research that attracts 14,000 students and 6,000 staff of the highest international quality. Innovative research at the College explores the interface between science, medicine, engineering and business, delivering practical solutions that improve quality of life and the environment - underpinned by a dynamic enterprise culture. Website: www.imperial.ac.uk.
ABOUT THE FUNDERS
Peoples’ Trust for Endangered Species
Since 1977 People’s Trust for Endangered Species (PTES) has been helping to ensure a future for many endangered species throughout the world. PTES is a registered charity with a board of trustees and thirteen employed staff members. The scale of actual and potential loss of wildlife can seem overwhelming. How can we make a difference? At the Trust we focus on specific problems and work to preserve endangered species in their natural habitats. We believe that successful conservation is based on sound scientific evidence and advice with practical outcomes. To find out more about our work please go to www.ptes.org.
Mohamed bin Zayed Species Conservation Fund
The Mohamed bin Zayed Species Conservation Fund is a significant philanthropic endowment established to do the following:
- Provide targeted grants to individual species conservation initiatives
- Recognize leaders in the field of species conservation; and
- Elevate the importance of species in the broader conservation debate.
The Fund’s reach is truly global, and its species interest is non-discriminatory. It is open to applications for funding support from conservationists based in all parts of the world, and will potentially support projects focused on any and all kinds of plant, animal and fungus species, subject to the approval of an independent evaluation committee.
Erasmus Darwin Barlow Expedition Award
Each year, ZSL’s Erasmus Darwin Barlow Award scheme helps to fund short field expeditions by new conservationists. These expeditions help to give early-career conservationists a chance to carry out field conservation and bring focus on to threatened and poorly-known species or habitats currently receiving little or no conservation attention.