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Rescuing Seahorses
The <i>Hippocampus Borbonensis</i>
Amazing Creatures Threatened By Overfishing

The Hippocampus Borbonensis can change its color in minutes. The quick change is usually a part of courtship or adapting camouflage to fit a new environment. (Amanda Vincet/ZSL)


By Lucrezia Cuen
ABCNEWS.com
L O N D O N, June 8 — Think of a fish that looks like a horse, with a tail like a monkey, a snout like an anteater and a pouch like a kangaroo and you’ll have one of the most beautiful underwater creatures — the seahorse.
Video Seahorses are in danger of extinction.
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     Beauty is not their only attraction. Seahorses are shy yet playful creatures who will “hold hands” with their human admirers by wrapping their tails around a diver’s finger.
     They are also the most faithful of partners. Seahorses court and choose a mate for life, a fidelity that is rare in the animal kingdom. But it is in procreation where the seahorse is truly unique.
     It is the male seahorse who gets pregnant, carries the young in a kangaroo-like pouch, goes through labor and gives birth.
     Seahorses are strange, beautiful, oddities of nature. But the very things that make them so fascinating to humans now threatens to lead them to extinction.
     “Seahorse populations globally have declined dramatically,” says Dr. Heather Hall, a London Zoo Curator. “In some areas as much as by 50 percent in a five to 10 year period.” (See audio, right.)
     Hall and Dr. Amanda Vincent of McGill University in Montreal co-fouded and lead Project Seahorse, a global conservation program trying to save the seahorse from extinction

Mystique Is Its Downfall
Hall says the seahorse’s mystique has become its downfall. Dried seahorses are used in Chinese medicine for everything from asthma treatments to aphrodisiacs. The animal’s fidelity has come to be equated with sexual health.
     Pound for pound dead, dried and bleached seahorses are more valuable than silver on the Hong Kong market. The seahorse is being wiped out by overfishing.
     They’re also threatened by where they live.
     “Seahorses live in the world’s most threatened marine habitats — estuaries, coral reefs, coastal sea grasses,” says Hall, “and they are being fished by people who totally depend on them for their livelihood.” (See story, below.)
     Project Seahorse is working to raise global awareness of the threat to the species and discourage their use as souvenirs and home aquarium curiosities.
     Project Seahorse’s objection to the use of seahorses in home aquariums has upset those who farm and sell thousands of seahorses commercially and say the fish make good pets.
     A lot of the seahorse trade ends up in home aquariums because people find them so fascinating to watch. But seahorses are hard to keep alive. They are finicky eaters, requiring feeding every four hours, and, scientists say, only on live food. Most people can’t manage that, and the seahorses die in captivity.
     “We are trying to develop conservation measures that will ensure that seahorses will be here for years to come in a whole range of ways,” says Hall.
     By developing breeding programs and setting up sanctuaries in the wild the project hopes to slow the decline in seahorse populations.
     Acting now, scientists say, could save the seahorse from becoming the Dodo of the 21st century.

Seahorse Sanctuaries
An estimated 20 million seahorses were taken from the wild last year. Although 52 countries are involved in the seahorse trade, the vast majority come from the Philippines.
     The village of Hanumon on the island of Jandayan is at the heart of the seahorse trade. Over the past few years the seahorse population there has dramatically declined. Fishermen say their catch has plunged almost 70 percent.
     Project Seahorse has been working to educate the islanders, develop conservation programs and set up seahorse sanctuaries.
     By teaching the fisherman to spare the male seahorses — at least until they give birth — it is ensuring future generations of seahorses have a chance at survival. The project also hopes to train fisherman in new trades and crafts to reduce their dependency on the seahorse trade.

 SEARCH ABCNEWS.com FOR MORE ON …
Seahorse Sanctuaries




Seahorses have been used in Chinese medicine for more than 2,000 years. They’re marketed as treatments for asthma, heart disease, kidney disease, and impotence.

A U D I O

London Zoo Curator Heather Hall on the difficult life of seahorses.




Seahorses’ monogamous behavior means they do not reproduce quickly. Once the male or female from a seahorse couple is captured or dies, it is unlikely the remaining mate will find a new partner.

W E B  L I N K S

Project Seahorse

Zoological Society of London

Shedd Aquarium Chicago


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