Campaigners for the conservation of seahorses are predicting that in ten years time these captivating creatures of the sea will disappear if nothing is done to save them.
Seahorses are fish that have fascinated people due to their horse-shaped heads, kangaroo-like pouches, monkey-like tails, and a lizard’s color-changing abilities.
Irish marine biologist and seahorse crusader Kealan Doyle considers the seahorse as very special because, he says: “They are the only animal in the world that the male gives birth, and not only does it give birth but it dances around the female every single morning and stays for life. They are the typical symbol of love, of passion, of faithfulness and pair bonding.”
Seahorses give birth to around 4000 at one time, but only a handful survives into adulthood.
“They’re very poor swimmers, they tend to get washed away,” says Doyle. “In the wild, less than one in 1,000 survives.”
The future of this over 30 species of seahorses is not only in peril because of pollution, destruction of sea grass areas – their natural habitat, illegal fishing and accidental fishing, but more so because they are wantonly and indiscriminately harvested by people, egged on by unscrupulous traders/exporters, for aquarium use, curio trade (dried and sold as souvenirs), and to supply the biggest market of them all – the Chinese medicine industry.
According to Doyle, the Chinese market takes approximately 40 million seahorses per year from the wild as natural aphrodisiacs.
For the Chinese, it is a panacea for whatever illnesses or afflictions they may have, from impotence, to kidney problems, to baldness, to spur growth and even as a Botox substitute – due to the animals’ high levels of collagen
Doyle said, “Many, many more people can now afford seahorses who couldn’t before, and what’s really worrying is that they are now commonly being ground up and made into pills. That means the little, young seahorses which would previously have been left behind are being caught as well, and that’s the next generation gone, which is a conservation disaster.”
Doyle, who is one of the company’s founders of Seahorse Ireland in Carna in Co Galway, the world’s first large-scale seahorse breeding facility, is developing a technology to teach fishermen how to cultivate seahorses so they don’t have to continually fish them from the wild. The fishermen will then be able to grow them to supply their markets. This means that they can still have a job and feed their families and the seahorse species can survive in the wild.