New study highlights urgent need for enhanced seahorse conservation on Iberian Peninsula

A recent study has highlighted critical gaps in protecting two seahorse species, Hippocampus hippocampus and Hippocampus guttulatus, along the Iberian Peninsula’s Atlantic coast. These seahorses, vital to coastal ecosystems, face severe threats from human activities and habitat loss.

Researchers used advanced modelling to map suitable habitats for these species, finding significant differences in their preferences. H. hippocampus thrives further from the coast, influenced by temperature, while H. guttulatus prefers areas close to the coast, facing away from the open sea. Key habitats were identified in northwestern Spain and central and southern Portugal.

Alarmingly, only 19-20% of these prime habitats in Portugal and even less in Spain are under protection. Fully protected zones cover less than 0.5%, with most Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) offering inadequate safeguards.

The study calls for expanding and strengthening MPAs to better protect seahorse habitats, ensuring the survival of these species and the health of their ecosystems. This urgent action requires collaboration among policymakers, conservationists, and stakeholders.