The e-commerce trade of seahorses


This research examines the nature and legality of the e-commerce trade of seahorses. Online sales, or e-commerce, is a rapidly growing and very active sector in wildlife trade, one that greatly increases access to and availability of wildlife trade products. My work had three objectives. The first was to quantify the trade of seahorse species in e-commerce and develop an understanding of sites, volumes, prices, trade routes, species and illegality. My second objective was to examine the effects of a decision by members of the Coalition to End Wildlife Trafficking Online – a partnership between companies and wildlife conservation experts for an industry-wide approach to shut down online marketplaces for wildlife traffickers – to suspend seahorse trade. My third objective was to develop recommendations for further research that could secure sustainability in the e-commerce trade of marine wildlife. To meet my objectives, I collected e-commerce postings from online sites, created a database and verification framework, analyzed data and processed all information through the developed framework.

I found that the e-commerce sites offered implausibly high volumes of seahorses for sale, albeit with rational prices in the context of what we know. Most of the seahorses in e-commerce were being traded illegally according to our framework. Trade routes were largely as expected, with many seahorses originating from Thailand and Vietnam, both historically large exporters of dried seahorses. However, surprises included Cameroon and China as notable exporters. My findings indicate that the Coalition to End Wildlife Trafficking Online did aid regulation of e-commerce trade in seahorses, with members no longer trading dried seahorses. However, the continued large and illegal e-commerce in seahorses is putting pressure on wild populations and undermines the decisions of CITES Parties to suspend trade exports. I evaluate what CITES has done so far to regulate e-commerce and engage with five recommendations that CITES parties and stakeholders have put forward for how CITES and industry could co-operate to improve policy outcomes for seahorses and other taxa.

Hicks, A. (2023). The e-commerce trade of seahorses. MSc dissertation. The University of British Columbia.