Seahorses are powerful ambassadors for ocean health.
Get it right for seahorses and we will help save coastal seas. These quirky fishes are notable for their odd shapes, male pregnancy and faithful pairings. About 46 species, from little to large, live along the world’s tropical and temperate coastlines. Seahorses are threatened by fishing gears, including bottom trawls and seine nets, that trap all life willy nilly. Seahorses also perish when we damage or destroy their lovely coastal habitats. These same threats are assaulting most life in our seas.
Saving seahorses, saving the seas
Our Project Seahorse actions will safeguard iconic seahorses… and thousands more species too. We place seahorses at the centre of our conservation efforts because their future will respond to many layers of pressures and many layers of solutions. By saving seahorses we will save the seas on which all life depends.
We should conserve seahorse populations for many good reasons, the foremost being that these extraordinary fishes are, quite simply, marvellous and magical.
If we can’t mobilise people to conserve seahorse populations, then what will motivate them? In addition, though, there are strong biological, ecological, and economic reasons to care about seahorses. Biologically, their extraordinary life history — for starters, only the male becomes pregnant — provides us with an unusual opportunity to challenge our understanding of sex roles. Ecologically, their voracious predation on small bottom-dwelling organisms means they help structure coastal ecosystems. Economically, their value as medicines and ornamental display means they provide notable income for subsistence fishers in many parts of the world. Culturally, seahorses are creatures of storytelling and artistic inspiration around the world.
We know that seahorses are particularly vulnerable to pressures on the ocean. These fish are patchily and sparsely distributed, without much adult mobility to connect populations. Their defensive mechanisms – immobility and camouflage – are no match for determined fishers or non-selective fishing gears. They invest considerable effort in producing relatively few young, certainly compared with the millions produced by many other fish species, limiting population rates of recovery. Their highly structured social system, in the form of pair bonding, means that disrupting a population will reduce their reproductive output. Their long-term fidelity to small areas means that habitat damage and degradation are significant problems for the most threatened species.
While we certainly know enough to thrust ahead with seahorse conservation, much more does need to be learned about most seahorse species. The list is long, from the basic life history parameters (survival, growth, reproduction and movement) for most species through to their responses to pressures and remedial action (at different spatial and temporal scales). Such information would serve to refine and improve conservation action, as we forge ahead with communities around the world.