Lined seahorse (Hippocampus erectus). Photo by C. Bennice / Guylian Seahorses of the World

Introduction

Seahorses: Magical Creatures in Our Backyard” aims to build awareness about seahorses and other syngnathids in Biscayne National Park (BNP) and inspire residents of Miami-Dade County (FL, USA) to take action to protect the park and their oceans. Charismatic symbols of the seagrasses, mangroves, reefs and estuaries they call home, seahorses are flagship species for a wide range of marine conservation issues in Biscayne National Park (from water quality to plastics and other marine debris to habitat damage from boats, jet skis and other watercraft).

In April and May of 2017,  Emilie Stump, MSc student,  toured South Florida engaging people in thought and conversation about BNP and the threats its faces, and what they can do to help.

In addition to connecting directly with Miami-Dade County residents we developed a suite of resources for like-minded organisations to use in their own education and community programming.

Access our online Toolkit of resources here (or see the side menu).


A photo narrative of Emilie Stump’s research: Seahorse distribution and marine conservation in the Biscayne National Park

My research to study habitat use of seahorses and pipefish took me to Biscayne National Park in South Florida. It is the largest marine national park in the US and supports incredible biodiversity. The park protects vital marine habitat and nursery environments including mangroves, seagrasses and coral reefs.
We spent considerable time consulting local stakeholders such as divers, long-term residents, fishers and scientists about prior knowledge of seahorse distribution inside Biscayne National Park.
Based on local knowledge we decided to survey in three habitats - coral reefs, seagrass beds and discontinuous seagrass beds. Here is a typical scene from our coral reef habitat. Biscayne National Park protects much of the northern-most extent of the fragile Florida Reef Tract, and has over 500 species of reef fish. Will we find seahorses here?
We searched 79 different sites for seahorses and pipefish (Syngnathids), including this continuous seagrass bed. We conducted timed roving diver surveys using scuba to systematically search for our elusive fishes.
Our surveys for seahorses and pipefish were a great success. We found a total of 127 individuals from eight different species, including two seahorse species – the lined seahorse, H. erectus, and the dwarf seahorse, H. zosterae. Here, a lined seahorse attempts to blend in with the seagrass.
Although the coral reefs of Biscayne National Park are a good place to find this Federally Threatened type of Elkhorn coral, Acropora palmata, we observed no seahorses or pipefish in coral reef habitats. Instead, we found the highest number of Syngnathids in seagrass beds.
Although rare, this H. erectus was found by one of my research assistants. Local knowledge suggests that this species used to be common in the seagrass beds and coral reefs of Biscayne National Park in the past, but is hard to find today. We are working with local collaborators at the NOAA Protected Species and Biodiversity Branch to understand how seahorse and pipefish populations have changed over time. (Photo credit by C. Bennice/Guylian Seahorses of the World))
I had four amazing research assistants while working in Biscayne National Park. Here we are getting ready for a dive at one of the coral reef sites. My assistants had a wealth of local knowledge about important ocean issues in South Florida, and thankfully for my research, a keen eye for spotting seahorses and pipefish.
Can you find the pipefish, Syngnathus floridae, hiding in the seagrass? We found six different species of pipefish in Biscayne National Park, in both seagrass and discontinuous seagrass beds. The species featured in this photo was one of the largest and most frequently encountered pipefish.

Project Team

The following Project Seahorse team members are involved in developing and executing this campaign: Amanda Vincent, Emilie Stump, Lindsay Aylesworth, Scott Finestone, Regina Bestbier and Lily Stanton.

Project Sponsor

This campaign was made possible through the generous support of the Herbert W. Hoover Foundation. The Herbert W. Hoover Foundation takes a leadership role in funding unique opportunities that provide solutions to issues related to the community, education, and the environment.

Project collaborators

We would like to recognise the following group for their involvement in this campaign.  From hosting events to connecting us with local area resources to multiplying our conservation messages, their efforts have been invaluable.