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News Article | September 29, 2016

Thailand, the world's biggest exporter of seahorses, is suspending trade of the animal because of concern about threats to its wild population. The decision was announced at a meeting of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, or CITES. Dr. Amanda Vincent, a seahorse expert at The University of British Columbia, said Thursday that Thailand ended its seahorse trade earlier this year until it can make exports "sustainable." Vincent says the Thai decision is "a way station to getting serious management in place." Vincent is director of Project Seahorse, a group working with Thai authorities on seahorse conservation. The group's partner is the Zoological Society of London. Seahorses are mainly used in dried form for traditional medicine in mainland China, Hong Kong and Taiwan.

Correia M.,University of Algarve | Koldewey H.,Project Seahorse | Andrade J.P.,University of Algarve | Palma J.,University of Algarve
Journal of Experimental Marine Biology and Ecology | Year: 2015

A significant decline in the seahorse populations in the Ria Formosa has been recently reported and holdfast availability suggested as a particularly important variable that influences the abundance of the long-snouted seahorse (Hippocampus guttulatus) and the short-snouted seahorse (H. hippocampus). In order to test the usefulness of artificial holdfast units (AHU) to enhance habitat recovery, several of these structures were deployed at four different locations with distinct environmental characteristics and surveyed for seahorse abundance during a 6 month period. All AHU were colonized by seahorses within a month after deployment, reaching a maximum density of 13.1 seahorse m-2 at one of the sites. Results suggest that these AHU have the potential to aggregate seahorses in damaged habitats but have limited effect when placed close to natural high complexity habitats. The results from this experiment provide useful guidance in the use of artificial structures to improve degraded seahorse habitats in other similar situations, as part of management plans for seahorse population recovery. © 2015 Elsevier B.V.

Correia M.,University of Algarve | Palma J.,University of Algarve | Koldewey H.,Project Seahorse | Andrade J.P.,University of Algarve
Journal of Fish Biology | Year: 2014

In this study, the spot pattern in Hippocampus guttulatus was analysed using a computer programme algorithm that allowed individual comparison. This methodology was first tested in a controlled environment using 51 adult and 55 juvenile H. guttulatus. Positive matches were obtained in 86·3 and 83·6% of the adults and juveniles, respectively. In a second experiment, monthly surveys were carried out in five selected locations in the Ria Formosa Lagoon, south Portugal, over the course of a year and a total of 980 photographs were analysed. Photographed H. guttulatus were re-sighted one to nine times during the course of the survey period with an overall re-sight record of over 30%. Photo-identification was therefore shown to be a useful tool for non-invasive mark-recapture studies that can be successfully used to survey the population abundance of H. guttulatus aged 6months or older in consecutive years. This could be of great value when considering the assessment of H. guttulatus populations and understanding changes over time. © 2014 The Fisheries Society of the British Isles.

Correia M.,University of Algarve | Palma J.,University of Algarve | Koldewey H.,Project Seahorse | Andrade J.P.,University of Algarve
Journal of Experimental Marine Biology and Ecology | Year: 2013

The recent decline of the seahorse populations in the Ria Formosa lagoon could indicate the presence of a stressful factor due to habitat loss. Artificial structures have been successfully used as a recovery tool to cope with habitat degradation in many countries but none for this seahorse species (Hippocampus guttulatus). Four different artificial holdfasts (S1-S4) were tested in laboratory for seahorse preference under different conditions and different holdfast densities. Seahorses, both juveniles and adults, preferred the holdfast S4, consisting of a "Codium-like" polyethylene nautical rope, even when submitted to different water flows. Preferred holdfast density was 156holdfast·m-2, and most of seahorses were observed grasping at the base of these structures (0-10cm in height). This study provides preliminary data and promising results on an approach to designing artificial holdfasts for seahorses in low complexity damaged or depleted areas. The use of these structures may contribute to the settlement of seahorse populations, thus broadening their potential habitat as part of a wider restoration strategy. © 2013 Elsevier B.V.

PubMed | Project Seahorse, Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology and University of Algarve
Type: Journal Article | Journal: Journal of fish biology | Year: 2015

Comparisons of three sets of surveys in the Ria Formosa Lagoon, Portugal, over a 13 year period (2001-2002, 2008-2009 and 2010-2013) revealed significant population fluctuations in at least one of the two seahorse (Hippocampinae) species living there, and that those fluctuations were potentially associated with habitat changes in the lagoon. After a significant decline between the first two survey periods (2001-2002 v. 2008-2009), long-snouted seahorse Hippocampus guttulatus populations increased significantly between 2008-2009 surveys and new 2010-2013 surveys. There were no significant differences in H. guttulatus populations between the 2001-2002 and 2010-2013 surveys. In contrast, there were no significant differences in short-snouted seahorse Hippocampus hippocampus densities among the 16 sites surveyed throughout the three sampling periods, although the ability to detect any change was hampered by the low densities of this species in all time periods. Fluctuations in H. guttulatus densities were positively correlated with the percentage of holdfast coverage, but with none of the other environmental variables tested. These results highlight the importance of holdfast availability in maintaining stable seahorse populations. While population fluctuations are certainly more promising than a consistent downward decline, such extreme fluctuations observed for seahorses in the Ria Formosa Lagoon could still leave these two species vulnerable to any additional stressors, particularly during low density periods.

Koldewey H.J.,Project Seahorse | Martin-Smith K.M.,University of Tasmania
Aquaculture | Year: 2010

Seahorses (Hippocampus spp.) are flagship species for many issues in marine conservation including overexploitation, incidental bycatch and habitat loss. Aquaculture has been proposed as one solution to address unsustainable trade for traditional medicine, aquarium fishes and curios. Here we review historical and current information on global seahorse aquaculture including characteristics of aquaculture operations, species in culture, contribution to international trade and technical issues associated with raising seahorses in captivity. We found that prior to the 1990s, seahorse aquaculture was plagued by problems with disease and feeding. In the late 1990s and early 2000s there was considerable expansion in the number and size of aquaculture operations and the number of species in culture. This was reflected in an increasing contribution of captive-bred seahorses to the aquarium trade but not in the larger traditional medicine market. Currently, the majority of seahorse aquaculture involves small-scale operations in developed countries, employing relatively few personnel and selling live animals for the home aquarium market. Although, there are still considerable technical problems with diseases and with breeding and raising some species, others are performing successfully in aquaculture. There are currently at least 13 species in commercial culture or under research for their culture potential. However, economic viability remains a concern to many current aquaculture operations including price competition with wild-caught animals. Large-scale aquaculture to supply the traditional medicine market or as a livelihood venture has not yet been demonstrated to be commercially viable, although it is being actively researched. © 2009 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.

News Article | December 22, 2015

Two UBC researchers were fortunate enough to witness this male seahorse giving birth in the waters off New South Wales in Australia in early November. They caught the moment on camera in one of the few videos of a birth in the wild. "We were doing a survey and found a very, very pregnant male that had a tiny tail sticking out of his brood pouch," said Clayton Manning, a master's student with Project Seahorse, a marine conservation group based at the University of British Columbia, Canada, and Zoological Society of London. "I had just finished getting his measurements and a baby shot out of the opening. So we sat back and watched the father for a while." Manning and Meagan Abele, a Project Seahorse research assistant, are working on a seahorse conservation project in Port Stephens, Australia. They dive and search for seahorses living in the protected waterway to learn about the habitats that best support seahorse populations. The species living in these waters is known as the White's or Sydney seahorse or by its Latin name Hippocampus whitei. While seahorse reproduction is well documented, most existing videos of seahorses giving birth are from aquariums. Fortunately Abele had a camera on hand and captured the special moment in nature. "This is their time to breed," said Abele, a UBC alumna. "Many of the males we're finding are super pregnant and ready to burst. It's surreal to watch it happen." Unlike most other animals, female seahorses deposit eggs into a pouch on the male's adbomen. The males then fertilize, carry and nourish the developing embryos in a form of pregnancy. White's seahorses carry the babies for three weeks before they are released from the pouch fully formed; about 100 to 250 babies are born at a time. Worldwide seahorse populations face pressures from fishing, particularly bottom trawling, and habitat degradation. While it is known that seahorses live in many shallow ocean areas around the world, we don't know a lot about the specific habitat characteristics the affect their numbers. Manning hopes to better understand how the seagrass, sponge and soft coral habitats of Port Stephens help support the seahorse population in the area. While seahorse numbers have declined precipitously in many parts of the world, Australian populations are generally doing well, providing important research opportunities and reference points.

Vincent A.C.J.,University of British Columbia | Foster S.J.,University of British Columbia | Koldewey H.J.,Project Seahorse
Journal of Fish Biology | Year: 2011

This article analyses the pressures on seahorses and explores conservation responses. It focuses on seahorses (Hippocampus spp.) but also considers pipefishes and seadragons, especially where they can fill gaps in seahorse knowledge. The charisma of many syngnathids can make them good flagship species for threats and solutions in marine conservation. The article combines a synthesis of published literature with new data on the trade in seahorses for traditional medicine, aquarium display and curiosities. Most traded seahorses come from trawl by-catch, although seahorses are also targeted. The total extraction is large, tens of millions of animals annually, and unsustainable. A first review of the effect of habitat change on syngnathids raises many questions, while suggesting that some species may cope better than others. The combination of pressures means that many species of syngnathid are now included in the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species or national equivalents. In addition, seahorse exports from 175 countries are limited to sustainable levels under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) of Wild Fauna and Flora. Possible conservation measures include marine protected areas, fisheries management, select aquaculture ventures, trade regulation, improved governance (particularly) and consumer engagement. © 2011 The Authors. Journal of Fish Biology © 2011 The Fisheries Society of the British Isles.

Lam J.T.L.,University of British Columbia | Koldewey H.J.,Project Seahorse | Yasue M.,University of British Columbia | Vincent A.C.J.,University of British Columbia
ORYX | Year: 2014

Concerns regarding the sustainability of the seahorse Hippocampus spp. trade led to their listing on CITES Appendix II in 2002, with implementation in 2004. In 2007 we interviewed wholesale traders of seahorses in Hong Kong, China, seeking indications of the effects of the CITES listing on the seahorse trade. We cross-validated traders’ perspectives with government trade statistics (1998–2007) from Hong Kong and Taiwan. We also compared these data with trade statistics for pipefish, which are related species with similar medicinal uses but are not CITES-listed. Both the interviews and government statistics indicated reduced volumes of seahorses traded through Hong Kong, changes in source countries, and price increases post-implementation. Traders suggested that these changes were largely a result of the CITES listing. However, data indicate that other factors such as shifts in domestic policies and local demand may also have affected the trade. By cross-validating the perspectives of local stakeholders with trade statistics in a wildlife trading hub we were able to explore hypotheses on the local and global impacts of CITES. Such approaches are especially important for CITES-listed species because often there is no single data source that is complete and wholly reliable. Copyright © Fauna & Flora International 2014

Woodall L.C.,Royal Holloway, University of London | Koldewey H.J.,Project Seahorse | Shaw P.W.,Royal Holloway, University of London
Journal of Fish Biology | Year: 2011

This first genetic study of Hippocampus hippocampus covers the species' entire geographic range and employs two mtDNA markers (control region and cytochrome b) to establish patterns of population structuring. A total of 255 specimens from 21 locations were used to obtain 89 concatenated haplotypes. The common haplotype was present in all but one population, however, most haplotypes were unique. The haplotype network had a star-like construction, suggesting expansion from a bottleneck event. FST and AMOVA revealed population subdivision into three geographic regions (English Channel + Bay of Biscay, Mediterranean Sea + Atlantic Ocean Iberian coast + Macaronesian Islands, and West Africa) with barriers to gene flow indentified at Cape Finisterre and the Cape Verde frontal zone. Neutrality tests and nested clade analysis suggest a complex demographic history, with both historic events and contemporary processes shaping patterns of genetic differentiation. The genetic population subdivision detected in this study indicates that H. hippocampus should be managed as three separate units. This is especially pertinent as H. hippocampus populations within the West African region are the only ones known to be specifically targeted for exploitation. © 2011 The Authors. Journal of Fish Biology © 2011 The Fisheries Society of the British Isles.

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