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.

 
 
A pair of tiger-tail seahorses (H. comes). Thomas P. Peschak/iLCP

A pair of tiger-tail seahorses (H. comes). Thomas P. Peschak/iLCP

 
 

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

 
 
For every kilogram of shrimp caught by trawlers, 10 kg of other marine life is caught and turned into fishmeal or dumped overboard, dead or dying.  Sarah Foster/Project Seahorse

For every kilogram of shrimp caught by trawlers, 10 kg of other marine life is caught and turned into fishmeal or dumped overboard, dead or dying.  Sarah Foster/Project Seahorse

 
 

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

 

41

Seahorse species listed
on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species

15-20 million

Seahorses traded around the world every year (many, many more are caught!)

Fewer than 20

Scientists studying wild seahorse populations
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 41 seahorse species on the IUCN Red List, 12 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 20 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. Twenty-seven seahorse species on the IUCN Red List are classed as 'Data Deficient.'

 
 
Guylian Seahorses of the World

Guylian Seahorses of the World

 
 

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. 

Biological research

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

2002

The year Project Seahorse achieved landmark CITES trade protections for seahorses
 

1000+

Seahorses citizen scientists and conservationists we've recruited since 2013
 

10

Seahorse population monitoring projects we've established through iSeahorse
 

Six

Shark and ray species we've helped protect through our seahorse trade work 

 

 
 
 
 

Stories from the field

 
 
Kate West/Project Seahorse

Kate West/Project Seahorse

Guylian Seahorses of the World

Guylian Seahorses of the World