Conservation research

At Project Seahorse, we recognize that the pressures on our oceans are so urgent that we can't afford to do science for its own sake. Our research is always geared toward real-world conservation impact.

We were the first scientists to study seahorses underwater, the first to uncover the huge global trade in seahorses, and — turning our research into conservation action — we have been instrumental in achieving a series of landmark international protection for marine fishes under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species. Much of Project Seahorse's research is carried out by our graduate students, based at the University of British Columbia and Zoological Society of London.

Find out more about our current research programs below. 

(Banner photo: Luciano Candisani/iLCP)

 

 
L. Aylesworth/Project Seahorse

L. Aylesworth/Project Seahorse

A. Stocks/Project Seahorse

A. Stocks/Project Seahorse

L. Aylesworth/Project Seahorse

L. Aylesworth/Project Seahorse

Project Seahorse (File photo)

Project Seahorse (File photo)

 

RESEARCH PROGRAMS

 

Seahorse Biology and Ecology

Program pageIUCN Specialist Group website / Publications 

Lindsay Aylesworth/Project Seahorse

Lindsay Aylesworth/Project Seahorse

Project Seahorse is the leading scientific authority on seahorses and their relatives. We study the 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. 

Our scientists were the first to study seahorses underwater, generating the very first estimates of seahorse growth and survival rates in the wild and making the discovery that many species form long-term monogamous pairs; we produced the first seahorse identification guide (1999), which has become the core reference for seahorse conservation and management action; and we completed the first synthesis and analysis of seahorse life history (2004).   

Selected past projects

Top ↑ 

 

 

Habitats and Marine Protected Areas

Program pagePublications 

Stock photo

Stock photo

Project Seahorse has been doing marine protected area (MPA) research and implementation for nearly 20 years. We study the effect of human activities (e.g. overfishing, destructive fishing practices, and pollution) on coastal marine ecosystems as well as the impact of MPAs as a tool for species and habitat recovery. 

We use our findings to improve existing MPAs, establish new ones — 35 and counting, in collaboration with local communities — and we develop marine resource management tools that are used by governments, conservation groups, and other scientists all over the world. Project Seahorse helped pioneer 'frugal' conservation — highly time-efficient, cost-effective methods of tracking changes in habitats and fish populations — and we have shown through our research that MPAs established quickly using local knowledge can be as or more effective than those set up using a slower, more rigorous scientific approach.

Current projects

INVERTEBRATES AND MPA EFFECTIVENESS (PHILIPPINES)

PhD student Kyle Gillespie is investigating how MPAs can be used to protect invertebrates. He is also studying how the growth patterns of invertebrates can be used to develop effective minimum size limits (i.e. rules about how large an animal must be before it can be caught) for whole groups of species. This will safeguard against animals being caught by trawls and other fisheries before they have had the chance to reproduce and replenish their numbers. 

Selected past projects

Top ↑ 

 

 

Small-scale Fisheries

Program pagePublications 

Jenny Selgrath/Project Seahorse

Jenny Selgrath/Project Seahorse

Our research on small-scale fisheries — which involve 100 million people worldwide and take a considerable toll on shallow seas habitats and species — is wide and varied.  Project Seahorse generated the first management recommendations for small-scale seahorse fisheries, pioneering the use of minimum size limits as a conservation tool. In addition to our previous projects, it was further 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.  

Selected past projects

Top ↑ 

 

 

Non-selective Fishing

Program pagePublications 

Lindsay Aylesworth/Project Seahorse

Lindsay Aylesworth/Project Seahorse

Bottom trawling and other forms of non-selective fishing are among the biggest threats to seahorses and shallow seas. Trawlers sweep large nets along the ocean bottom, indiscriminately scooping up marine life (also known as bycatch) and destroying delicate marine ecosystems in the process. 

Through our research we have discovered that approximately 2.2 million seahorses are caught in trawl nets every year. We have developed effective ways of using the life histories of small fish species to predict the effect of trawling on affected populations. We have shown that there are few effective management options for trawl fisheries, and those that do show potential, such as modified gears designed to reduce bycatch, depend on buy-in from the fishers operating the boats to succeed. This research supports our work to end trawling and promote sustainable fishing practices in its place. 

Current projects

TRADE AND CONSERVATION IN INDIA

PhD student Tanvi Vaidyanathan is investigating the impact of fishing and trade bans on seahorse populations. One of the unintended consequences of all-out bans is that it drives these activities underground, where they continue illegally and without monitoring. This in turn makes it more difficult to track seahorse abundance, distribution, and exploitation. Tanvi's work will inform the creation of alternative policy options.

Selected past projects

Top ↑ 

 

 

Trade and Policy

Program pagePublications 

Project Seahorse

Project Seahorse

Project Seahorse researchers track the global seahorse trade through a combination of field work and data analysis. In the 1990's, we were the first to uncover the vast geographical and economic scope of the trade and, working under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), we continue to generate critical insights that inform our policy work.  

Our trade analyses helped generate landmark protections for seahorses under Appendix II of CITES (2002), inspired the first-ever ban on the export of seahorses in Vietnam (2013), and have helped to clarify and reinforce the role of CITES in the conservation of marine fishes subject to international trade. 

Selected past projects

Top ↑