Developing conservation action for data-poor species using seahorses as a case study

Publication type: Thesis (Doctor of Philosophy in Zoology)
Publisher: The University of British Columbia
Date:  2016
Author:  Lindsay Aylesworth

In this thesis I explore how to develop conservation action strategically for data-poor marine
fishes. The dearth of information about populations, habitats and threats for many marine fishes makes it difficult to know how or where to initiate conservation strategies. My PhD research explores what type of information is essential for conservation management, and how it can be generated and applied for data-poor marine fishes. I use the case study of seahorses
(Hippocampus spp), because they are notoriously understudied and yet their trade is regulated
under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). I further focus on
Thailand, the largest exporter of seahorses, which has come under considerable international

In my first two chapters I generated the spatial data that are vital to support conservation and
management efforts. My results showed that using local knowledge to inform a presence /
absence study, one that incorporated detection probabilities, was the most expedient way to
produce the necessary spatial data. In my next two chapters I explored two approaches to understanding incidental capture of datapoor species in non-selective fishing gear. I found that vulnerability analysis yielded greater return on fewer data than data-poor fisheries stock assessment. However, data-poor fishery stock assessment made it possible to estimate stock status and revise management measures. For my fifth chapter, I applied findings from my previous chapters to meet CITES obligations, by assuming the role of a Thai government agent confronted with the external technical advice that I had generated. I found that implementation was most successful if I addressed three main questions: (1) What are the pressures on species?; (2) Is management in place to mitigate those pressures?; and (3) Are the species responding as hoped to management?

My thesis highlights ways that management can move forward with limited data to address
conservation issues for marine species. Some of these ways include valuing the use of local
knowledge and using new advances in data-poor assessment methods in fisheries. Whenever
fisheries are involved, conservationists need to respect the challenges that managers face in
simultaneously seeking to protect wild species and meet human needs.