By Joe Cross, Big Blue Scuba School, Cheshire
There are 54 species of seahorses which all come under the Genus Hippocapus which literally translates to Horse monster. Seahorses can be found all over the world from the temperate waters in the UK to the warm tropical waters found around the equator and range in size from 1.5 to 36cm. Though divers love to find them on a dive this isn’t always the easiest task, seahorses are extremely adept at camouflage and can grow and reabsorb spiny appendages to help them hide into there environment better. Seahorses are one of the only species where the males undergo the gestation period and remain monogamous even after there partner has died.
Seahorses used to be highly abundant in our seas however in the past 30 years there numbers have dropped significantly and researchers are predicting that there could go extinct, in the wild ,in the next 3 decades. The main reason for this rapid decline is the use in traditional Chinese medicine. The medicine is said to increase vitality and improve your sex life as well as improving kidney function, respiratory ailment, circulation and joint pain. Unfortunately there is no evidence to support these claims so we maybe over fishing our seahorses in vain.
Over 190 million seahorses are caught every year to supply this demand. Between the years 1990 and 2000 it is estimated that seahorse number fell between 50-80%.
Seahorses proved difficult to breed in captivity at first but great improvement have been made and now there are many species that breed very well in captivity. The majority of this work came from Hawaii and New Zealand. One Hawaiian aquarium was the first to breed H. capenis an endangered species and could go along way into helping the population recover. The problem with captive breeding is that costs double compared to collecting adult seahorses from the wild. This is due the man hours required when raising the young and the extra cost of food small enough for the juveniles to eat. So it is an unlikely solution for the individuals involved with the traditional Chinese medicine trade.
To read more about the aquarium trade check out our blog on Are Aquaria Good For Wildlife Conservation?
The Seahorse Trust – they are a small UK based charity but operate all over Europe. They get involved and fund research project to best understand the animals, they are currently collecting funding for the National Seahorse Centre. They do lots of projects where volunteers can get involved and is an overall great charity.
The Marine Conservation Society – they are a much larger charity which are involved with lots of different conservation efforts and education across the UK. You will have probably seen there logo on your fish packets from the supermarket. If you are interested in helping seahorses through them you can adopt a seahorse.