Seahorses are very fascinating and magical marine creatures. They have head like a horse, a tail like a monkey, a head that moves independently, and skin color that can change like a chameleon. They are classified as fish and are cousins to pipefish and sea dragons, from the family Syngnathidae. All seahorses belong to the genus Hippocampus. They lack teeth, a stomach, and a caudal fin. In a seahorse’s life cycle, male is the one to give birth. Seahorses can reach a size of 20 cm (8 inches). The smallest seahorse is Hippocampus satomiae with a length of 13.8 mms (0.54 inches) and a height of 11.5 mms (0.45 inches). This pygmy species is found near Derawan Island off Kalimantan, Indonesia. We still do not how long seahorses live and most of their natural history remains mysterious.
Seahorses inhabit mainly tropical and temperate coastal waters. Their preferred habitats are coral reefs, mangroves, sea grass beds and estuaries. The majority of seahorse species are socially monogamous. The courtship behaviors are complex with partners displaying changes in color. They use long snout to absorb tiny shrimp, fish, and plankton. Seahorses protect themselves against predators by blending perfectly in their environment. Male can give birth to up several hundred young from one pregnancy. Overall, seahorses are characterized by a rapid growth rate, early age at maturity, high natural mortality, short generation time, and multiple spawnings per year.
The most endangered seahorse is the Cape seashore (Hippocampus capensis) endemic to South Africa. This species has a restricted and fragmented distribution, only known in a few estuaries. Its habitat is threatened by development and water pollution. Most seahorse species are poorly evaluated (data deficient) and their population trends and status are unknown. Eight species are classified as threatened (vulnerable or endangered).
Seashores have captured the imagination of humans where they are featured in the mythology, legends, folklore of many countries. Due to their unique appearance and biology, people in Asia have credited seahorses with magical powers. However, magnificent seashores are under threats and some species are rapidly declining such as the hedgehog seahorse or the flat-faced seahorse.
Threats to seahorses include:
Legal and illegal trade for ornamental display (sold dried as souvenirs), aquarium fishes, and traditional Chinese medicine. More than 20 millions of seahorses are estimated to be traded each year for Chinese medicine. Hundreds of thousands of seahorses are sold for the aquarium trade driven primarily by North American. Most of these seahorses are juveniles where they usually die within a short period.
By catch in the shrimp trawl and other fisheries off of Florida, Mexico, Central America, and South America.
Habitat degradation and destruction due to coastal development, marine pollution, coral reef destruction, and land-based deforestation. Deforestation leads to increased siltation in surrounding marine waters, thereby suffocating sea grass bed and killing coral reefs.
Seahorses are an important part of the marine world and saving them is an imperative. They can serve as flagship species for a wide range of marine conservation issues.
You can make a difference by:
refusing to buy seahorse souvenirs and wild caught seashore for aquarium
supporting marine protected areas
reducing ocean pollution
promoting forest conservation and reforestation along coastlines