Fragile ecosystems, vitally important

Shallow seas comprise some of the most important and threatened marine ecosystems on our planet, such as coral reefs, mangrove forests, and seagrasses. Project Seahorse works to secure our shallow seas through an innovative blend of conservation research, fisheries management tools, and marine protected areas. 

  A young boy gathers crabs, shellfish, and nudibranch eggs just off the shore of his island village.   Luciano Candisani/iLCP

A young boy gathers crabs, shellfish, and nudibranch eggs just off the shore of his island village. Luciano Candisani/iLCP


Why protect our shallow seas?

Shallow seas — the first 10 metres of depth along the world’s coastlines — are where seahorses and a huge diversity of other marine species live, grow and breed. They are also where human beings exert the greatest pressure on our oceans. Nearly half of all people depend on the sea as a source of food and medicine, and 90% of all economic activity in our oceans takes place in coastal areas. 


$375 billion

Yearly value, in U.S. dollars, that coral reefs provide in coastal protection, tourism, food, and livelihoods

1-8 million

Estimated total number of marine species living in and around coral reefs

The ecological and economic benefits of our shallow seas are too numerous to count. They include some of the most biodiverse and scientifically important marine ecosystems on the plant, home to hundreds of thousands of fish species, invertebrates, and other life. They provide food security and vital income for billions of people and they protect coastal communities from the devastating effects of cyclones and other extreme weather. 


 A sparsely populated reef on Danajon Bank in the central Philippines.  Luciano Candisani/iLCP

A sparsely populated reef on Danajon Bank in the central Philippines. Luciano Candisani/iLCP


What threatens shallow seas?

Destructive fishing practices, real estate development, pollution, and climate change all threaten our shallow seas and the marine life that depends on them. In recent decades we've seen a rapid global decline in coastal habitats, with over 35% of mangrove forests, 30% of coral reefs, and 30% of seagrass beds now degraded or destroyed. 





16 million sq. km 

Total area of seabed dragged by trawlers every year — twice the size of the continental U.S.


Proportion of the world's mangrove forests that have been degraded or destroyed


Total area of our oceans currently designated as marine protected areas (MPAs)



Destructive fishing practices

Trawling, blast fishing, and other harmful types of fishing destroy shallow seas habitats, tearing up seagrass beds, shattering coral reefs, and wiping out mangrove forests. These fragile ecosystems can take a very long time to recover, if they ever do. 

Coastal development, sea-filling, and pollution

Unchecked real estate development and other land-based human activities are a major concern. Chemical run-off from construction projects, sea-filling to create more space to build on, and (in the water) aquaculture can all have a devastating effect. 

Weak or nonexistent management practices

Many governments and communities lack the information and tools they need to strike the right balance between using and conserving coastal marine ecosystems.  

Lack of awareness

There is little public or political awareness of the value or fragility of our shallow seas, and even less coordinated action for their survival. 

 A Project Seahorse research lays a transect across a coral reef.  Luciano Candisani/iLCP

A Project Seahorse research lays a transect across a coral reef. Luciano Candisani/iLCP


How we secure shallow seas

Conservation research

We study how government policy, minimum size limit guidelines for fisheries, marine protected areas, and other conservation measures can benefit coastal marine ecosystems, and we find ways to make them more effective.

Policy and management for sustainable fisheries

From our research we develop policy recommendations, management briefings and other tools to help governments use their coastal marine resources effectively and sustainably.

Marine protected areas (MPAs)

Project Seahorse has been leading MPA research and implementation for nearly two decades. We work with governments and local communities to establish MPAs where threatened marine animals and habitats such as coral reefs and seagrasses can survive and thrive in the absence of human pressures. 

Outreach and education

Through the media, public outreach in zoos and aquariums, and other activities, we raise awareness about the importance of our shallow seas and the urgent need to protect them. 





Number of marine protected areas (MPAs) we've established with local communities in the Philippines


Number of small-scale fishing families we brought together in an alliance to protect shallow seas in central Philippines

5 million people

Total reach of Expedition: Danajon Bank, our international conservation education photography exhibit

20+ years

How long we've been studying Danajon Bank, creating one of the longest-running datasets on any marine ecosystem, anywhere



Stories from the field