Saving seahorses, securing shallow seas
As the pre-eminent global expert on seahorses, Professor Amanda Vincent has been leading the science and conservation of these mysterious and important animals for over 30 years. In 1996 she founded Project Seahorse, a marine conservation group committed to the conservation and sustainable use of the world’s coastal marine ecosystems. With seahorses as flagship species, Project Seahorse tackles the most urgent threats facing our shallow seas today, from overfishing to habitat destruction to the illegal wildlife trade.
Our innovative and nimble way of working has been very successful, especially in light of the group's small size and limited resources. Prof. Vincent and Project Seahorse have been recognized with the Whitley Award in Animal Conservation (1994), Rolex Award for Enterprise (1998), and Pew Fellowship in Marine Conservation (2000).
An interdisciplinary approach
We find marine conservation solutions by understanding interdependencies between marine life and human communities. Concentric pressures bear down on individual animals, making an "onion world" in which each layer affects the others. Biological seahorse research is at the centre and we progress outward from there through marine populations, ecosystems, fishing communities, national and global trade issues, policy and public outreach.
Through our work, we aim to:
ACHIEVEMENTS AT A GLANCE
Number of seahorses traded globally each year, as uncovered by Prof. Vincent through tough field surveys and detective work
Number of marine protected areas we have established with local communities in the Philippines
Number of small-scale fishing families we brought together in an alliance to protect seahorses and shallow seas in central Philippines
Year we achieved landmark trade protections for seahorses under Appendix II of CITES — the first for any marine fishes since 1975
Shark and ray species we've helped protect through our seahorse trade work
Number of people we've reached with Expedition: Danajon Bank, our 2013-14 international conservation education campaign
OUR WORK IN FOCUS
Biological and conservation research
The first biologist to study seahorses underwater and founding chair of the IUCN Seahorse, Pipefish and Stickleback Specialist Group, Prof. Vincent has led biological and trade field research in 34 countries on six continents. Prof. Vincent and the Project Seahorse team study genetics, life history, taxonomy, and population distributions of these species, always with a view to improving seahorse conservation, from IUCN Red List assessments to marine protected areas to management tools. Highlights:
- 200+ primary papers, reports, and policy briefings on seahorses (1989-present), including world's first estimates of seahorse growth and survival rates in the wild and discovery that many species form long-term monogamous pairs
- 130+ IUCN Red List assessments of seahorses and their relatives (1996-present)
- First book on seahorse taxonomy (1999)
- First definitive review of seahorse biology and life history (2004)
Recognizing that the pressures on our oceans are so urgent that we can't afford to do science for its own sake, Project Seahorse gears all of its research toward real-world conservation impact. All of our research is turned into management and policy tools for seahorse and shallow seas conservation. Recent highlights:
- 'Frugal' conservation — developed highly time-efficient, cost-effective methods of tracking changes in habitats and fish populations (2011);
- Showed that MPAs established quickly using local knowledge can be as or more effective than those set up using a slower, more rigorous scientific approach (2012);
- Revealed that women play an essential role in small-scale fisheries and that, to be truly effective, marine conservation must take their contributions into account (2014).
Citizen science and conservation
Since launching in 2013, iSeahorse — our pioneering citizen science program — has increased the number of people studying seahorses and advocating for their protection from fewer than 10 scientists to over 1,000 citizen scientists and conservationists around the world. iSeahorse is a global early warning system for at-risk seahorse populations and habitats. Highlights:
- Recruited 1,000+ seahorse citizen scientists and conservationists;
- Generated new scientific discoveries, including first seahorse sighting in Canadian waters in decades and hundreds of sightings (>15%) outside of species' known geographical range;
- Inspired ten citizen-run seahorse population monitoring projects (and counting) in seven countries around the world;
- Established one brand-new MPA in central Philippines based on iSeahorse data.
Policy and management for sustainable fisheries
From our research Project Seahorse has developed policy recommendations, management briefings, marine protected areas, and other tools to help governments use their coastal marine resources effectively and sustainably. Highlights:
- Developed dozens of management briefings and provided independent technical and scientific advice to governments and other stakeholders (1996-present);
- With local communities, established 35 MPAs (no-take zones) on Danajon Bank, a rare and threatened double-barrier reef in central Philippines (1996-present);
- Initiated creation of KAMADA, an alliance of 1,000 small-scale fishing families in the Philippines dedicated to the sustainable use and conservation of Danajon Bank;
- Through KAMADA, provided academic scholarships of children of seahorse fishers.
Trade and policy work
Our team works tirelessly to strengthen national and international conservation policy, helping governments to ensure their seahorse trade is sustainable. Highlights:
- Uncovered the massive global trade in seahorses — 15-20 million animals per year (1993-96);
- With Hong Kong Chinese Medicine Merchants Association, established a voluntary code of conduct for seahorse imports: no small ones and no pregnant males (2002);
- Drove scientific and policy process that led to landmark Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) Appendix II listing for seahorses — the first CITES listing for marine fishes since its inception (2002). This listing helped generated listings for other species, notably sharks and rays (2013);
- Motivated Australia to regulate extraction of seahorses and their relatives (1998) and New South Wales (2004);
- Through CITES, generated first global ban on exports of seahorses (or any marine fish) from Vietnam (2013).
Outreach and education
In her role as an academic, Prof. Vincent teaches the University of British Columbia's first course on marine conservation and advises a number of graduate students. Through the media, public outreach in zoos and aquariums, and other activities, Project Seahorse educates the public about the importance of our shallow seas and the urgent need to protect them. Recent highlights:
- Trained over 175 professional conservationists from around the world. Many have gone on to build impressive, difference-making careers as scientists, policymakers, conservation advocates, and more (1990-present);
- Advocated for seahorses and shallow seas conservation in hundreds of newspaper and magazine stories, ranging from National Geographic to the Sunday Times. Prof. Vincent has been the subject of five full-length television documentaries, three of them narrated by David Attenborough.
- Launched Expedition: Danajon Bank, an international conservation education photo exhibition at zoos and aquariums in London, Hong Kong, Chicago, and Manila. Created in partnership with the International League of Conservation Photographers, the exhibition has reached well over five million people to date (2013-present);
- Advised on "Seahorse Symphony" exhibit at John G. Shedd Aquarium, Chicago (1998-2004), which won the Association of Zoos and Aquariums Award for Best Exhibit.