Project Seahorse work drives new trade bans for West African seahorse hotspots

Fran Otero/iSeahorse.org

Fran Otero/iSeahorse.org

Exports of a vulnerable seahorse species from two west African countries are now banned, thanks to work carried out by Project Seahorse and funded by UK-based wildlife charity, People’s Trust for Endangered Species (PTES) and the Mohamed bin Zayed Species Conservation Fund.

Recently the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) — the United Nations body tasked with ensuring that global wildlife trade does not damage wild populations — announced the suspension of all exports of the threatened West African seahorse species (Hippocampus algiricus) from Senegal and Guinea.

“Global demand for seahorses drives the trade of 15-20 million animals every year, with many more being caught. In recent years, the West African seahorse has become highly sought, in part because seahorse populations in Asia have become depleted,” says Prof. Amanda Vincent, co-Principal Investigator, Director of Project Seahorse and Professor in the Institute for the Oceans and Fisheries at UBC. 

CITES is the only international organization with the ability to enforce export controls. Once a species is placed on Appendix II of the Convention, all 181 member countries must guarantee that any exports are sustainable and that the specimens were obtained legally. 

The decision was largely based on investigations by Project Seahorse scientists working at the University of British Columbia (UBC, Canada), the Zoological Society of London and Imperial College London. The research showed that that the number of West African seahorses in trade had risen dramatically over time, to reported exports as high as 260,000 seahorses in a year. This seahorse species is used primarily in traditional Chinese medicine, with most exports going to China.

“The CITES decision is an important move that should help reduce pressures on wild seahorses in these waters while also providing the context for significant new conservation work in the region,” says Nida Al-Fulaij, of PTES.

The West African seahorses is listed as ‘Vulnerable’ on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Until the Project Seahorse study, virtually nothing was known about the species or the threats it faced. 

Project Seahorse is now planning to support Guinea and Senegal as they move to address CITES recommendations and establish sustainable trade in seahorses.

“The goal is sustainability. Our findings will be shared with the Senegalese and other governments so they can meet their CITES obligations to ensure that in the future their seahorse exports do not harm wild populations,” says Dr. Chris Ransom, co-Principal Investigator and North Africa Programme Manager at ZSL. 

“Together we will help seahorse populations to thrive.”

MEDIA ENQUIRIES: Tyler Stiem at t.stiem@projectseahorse.org.


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.
  • Dr. Amanda Vincent and field researchers Kate West and Dr. Andres Cisneros-Montemayor recently published the first paper on the biology of the species.
  • The West African seahorse is listed as ‘Vulnerable’ on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species because of overfishing and habitat degradation. 
  • Species profile is available here.  


ABOUT THE PARTNERS

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 in order to support ocean conservation more broadly, generating cutting-edge research and using it to inform highly effective conservation interventions. Project Seahorse has won many international awards and honours, and works in collaboration with researchers, governments, conservation groups and local communities worldwide.  It serves as the IUCN SSC Seahorse, Pipefish and Stickleback Specialist Group.  

Website: www.projectseahorse.org

The University of British Columbia’s Institute for the Oceans and Fisheries
The UBC Institute for the Oceans and Fisheries (IOF) contributes to a transformative global shift toward sustainable coastal ecosystems, oceans and fisheries. It brings together a community of Canadian and international experts in ocean and freshwater species, systems, economics, and issues—and provides new insights into how our marine systems function, and the impacts of human activity on those systems.

Website: oceans.ubc.ca

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.

Website: 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. 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. Website: 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.  
 

Website: www.speciesconservation.org