Sunday, February 23, 2014

Seahorses: On the Decline

Pair of pygmy seahorses.

Every year, more than 150 million seahorses are collected in the wild and dried for use as souvenirs or medicines.  The wild populations of seahorses are becoming depleted, and many species face the threat of extinction.  According to the most comprehensive inventory of the global conservation status of plants and animals, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s Red List (IUCN), 38 species of seahorses are on the list: one as Endangered, seven as Vulnerable, one as Least Concern, and 29 as Data Deficient.  The seahorse population has declined by 20% over the last 10 years (or three generations).    
            There are three major reasons for the decline in seahorse populations: the Traditional Medicine trade, the curio trade, and the pet trade.

Thousands of dried seahorses.
            Hundreds of thousands of captured wild seahorses are used in the Curio trade.  Seahorses are sold as key chains, earrings, paperweights, and novelties in shops for the tourist trade.  Many people don’t realize that they are buying dried animals that were once living in the wild.  
            Approximately 95% of the wild seahorses that are collected are used in Traditional Medicine, especially in Asia and Asian communities.  Seahorses are sold whole and dried or ground for use in tonics and prescription medications.  Seahorses are used to treat asthma, respiratory disorders, sexual dysfunctions, broken bones, and heart ailments.  
Seahorses also fall victim to aquarium hobbyists in the pet trade.  Up to one million seahorses are collected for the aquarium trade every year.  The process of catching the seahorse, packaging it, shipping it, and selling it can take weeks.  By the time the seahorse arrives to a home aquarium, the animal is starved and stressed, which usually results in its demise.         
            Seahorses need to be preserved for ecological, biological, economic, and medical reasons.  Seahorses are important predators, and removing them may disrupt ecosystems.  Their reproductive ecology is important and provides us with a unique opportunity to expand our understanding of reproductive biology: only the male becomes pregnant and most pairs are monogamous.  Seahorses also provide some fisheries with a substantial amount of income in addition to being used to treat a wide range of medical conditions and ailments. 
Project Seahorse, an organization led by biologist Dr. Amanda Vincent, works worldwide to monitor trades, establish protected marine areas, and continue research on seahorses to determine what conservation measures are needed to protect seahorses.
Seahorses are a flagship species for a variety of marine conservation issues.  Seahorses are charismatic symbols of the sea grasses, mangroves, coral reefs, and estuaries.  Protecting seahorses means protecting all of the diverse habitats within our oceans and saving our seas.   



  1. It's so sad that seahorses are on the decline. When you say that they are important predators, have they been identified as keystone species?

  2. Seahorses are one of my favorite marine animals, and it makes me really sad that they are in decline. When I think about how people use them, it literally disgusts me... I can't picture myself using a seahorse as a paperweight! It's almost as bad to me as wearing fur. BLECH. I didn't know seahorses had such an impact in the medical field, though. I wonder how they treat the diseases and disorders that you talked about; what about them helps cure those things?

  3. Seahorses aren't considered to be a keystone species. However, they play a role as a flagship species for the promotion and protection of marine habitats.

    Apparently, seahorses are high in yang, the active male force, which makes them effective in treating sexual dysfunction. They also have "sweet and warm" properties which allows them to easily enter the kidney and liver channels to help tonify the kidneys. The whole body is usually ground up and placed in food or liquid and consumed.

  4. I did not know that seahorses were on that much of a decline. I think that it is really sad that they are being overfished. I think that people need to be educated more on how important they are and a ban needs to be put out that they cannot be taken anymore until their populations rebound. They are such beautiful animals it would be a shame if future generations never got to see them because they were fished to extinction.