Flagship species for marine conservation
Charismatic symbols of the seagrasses, mangroves, reefs and estuaries they call home, seahorses are flagship species for a wide range of marine conservation issues. Through a combination of biological research, citizen science, trade and policy work, and marine protected areas, Project Seahorse ensures that seahorse populations and their habitats around the world are healthy and well-managed.
Why protect seahorses?
Seahorses must be protected for biological, ecological, and economic reasons. Their extraordinary life history — only the male becomes pregnant and some species are seasonally monogamous — provides us with an unusual opportunity to expand our understanding of reproductive ecology. They are important predators on bottom-dwelling organisms; removing them may disrupt coastal ecosystems. They are also an important source of income and food security for subsistence fishers in many parts of the world. Protections for seahorses benefit many other marine species and ecosystems.
Related: Frequently asked questions about seahorses (kid-friendly version of FAQs)
What threats do seahorses face?
Seahorses are difficult to study in the wild because of their ability to blend, chameleon-like, into their surroundings, and their near-global geographical range. From our research we know that their biology and behaviour — for example, the young depend on parental survival far longer than most fish, and many species are seasonally monogamous — makes them particularly susceptible to overfishing, habitat loss, and other human pressures.
MYSTERIOUS SPECIES UNDER THREAT
Seahorse species listed
on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species
Seahorses traded around the world every year (many, many more are caught!)
Fewer than 30
Scientists study wild
around the world
Overfishing and illegal fishing
The high demand for seahorses as ingredients in traditional medicines, for display in aquariums, and as curios means that the number of animals caught and traded each year around the world far exceeds sustainable levels. Of the 42 seahorse species on the IUCN Red List, 14 are classed as 'Vulnerable' or worse.
Habitat loss and destructive fishing practices
Trawling is probably the single biggest threat to seahorses and other coastal marine animals. Every year, trawlers drag up an area of seabed twice the size of the continental U.S., catching millions of seahorses and other fishes and destroying vital habitats such as coral reefs, mangroves, estuaries, and seagrass beds.
Lack of information and resources
With fewer than 30 scientists dedicated to studying seahorses around the world, we simply do not know enough about the conservation status or threats faced by most wild populations of seahorses. Seventeen seahorse species on the IUCN Red List are classed as 'Data Deficient.'
How we save seahorses
Project Seahorse is the IUCN global authority on seahorses and their relatives. Led by award-winning scientists Dr. Amanda Vincent and Dr. Heather Koldewey, we pioneered the study and conservation of seahorses and continue to lead the push to protect these important animals.
Project Seahorse researchers were the first to study seahorses underwater and the first to publish a species identification guide. We continue to publish the bulk of new research on the biology and conservation of seahorses.
Trade and policy work
In the mid 1990's, Project Seahorse uncovered vast global trade in seahorses, and in 2002 we helped achieve landmark trade protections for seahorses under CITES. We work tirelessly to strengthen national and international conservation policy, helping governments to ensure their seahorse trade is sustainable.
Citizen science and conservation
Through iSeahorse, our pioneering citizen science program, we're increasing the number of people studying seahorses and advocating for their protection from fewer than twenty to over a thousand. Our goal is to build a global early warning system for at-risk seahorse populations and habitats.
SUCCESS BY THE NUMBERS
The year Project Seahorse achieved landmark CITES trade protections for seahorses
Seahorse citizen scientists and conservationists we've recruited since 2013
Seahorse population monitoring projects we've established through iSeahorse
Shark and ray species we've helped protect through our seahorse trade work