1000’s of Seahorses killed for souvenirs or medicine

By Sarah Marshadlam

seahorse169-408x264

THE VULNERABLE BEAUTY

The seahorse is a beautiful and unique jewel of the ocean. But sadly these creatures are being destroyed and wont be with us for much longer. Seahorses are especially vulnerable because they do not have much defense mechanism and are very slow to move. They are also slow to reproduce and only a handful of babies survive per batch.  Being so defensless and restricted to a small area makes them easily collected.  While researching the threat to seahorses I was astonished by how many humans were destroying.

THE EXTENT OF THE PROBLEM

* 50% of seahorse population has diminished in the past 10 years. 

* Estimated to be extinct in 10-30 years

* 200 million killed each year for Chinese medicine/ Souvenirs

* 2.2 million caught in shrimp nets each year.

* 1 million caught for pet trade per year, but est only 1000 survive.

THE 200 MILLION PER YEAR FOR SOUVENIRS AND CHINESE MEDICINE

david-fleetham-plastic-bags-full-of-dried-seahorses-for-sale-at-a-traditional-medicine-shop-in-guangzhou-china

There was a time when I would go into a seaside gift shop and consider purchasing one of these ‘cool and interesting’ souvenirs – a perfect dried ‘fossil/replica’ of one of these beautiful creatures. These can be as they are, or fashioned into key rings, paperweights or jewellery. I ignorantly assumed that these interesting relics were found washed up on a beach or from a fossil. I also didn’t know to what extent dried seahorses featured in Chinese medicine. 

The horrific truth is that an astonishing 200 milion seahorses per year are  killed and dried specifically for Chinese medicine and souvenir sales. They are caught from the wild and harvested before being cruelly left to dry out. In one research, 100% of the males captured were pregnant, so it wasn’t just one generation killed.

I could not believe the amount – 200 million per year?! And for gifts and hocus pocus medicines? The Chinese believe that seahorses heal many ailments including baldness, aging, infertility and incontinence. There is no scientific evidence to support the health benefits although there are warnings such as ‘do not take if pregnant’ so there must be certain known side effects.

dried

I know these images are very upsetting but this is the sad truth behind the trade.

Efforts to farm seahorses has been unsuccessful and often more destructive due to capturing pregnant males. 

SHRIMP TRAWLERS

shrimp-and-bycatch-photo

Shrimp trawling is the most destructive form of fishing there is. Trawlers use nets to  scrape the bottom of the ocean, destroying the delicate ecosystem and habitats and catching marine life along the way. Each year trawlers destroy an area twice the size of continental USA each year.

Because the trawler is not selective, for every kilogram of shrimp on our plates, 10 kilograms of other marine life including seahorses is caught too. As it’s unwanted, it’s either dumped overboard dead or dying, or used as fish meal.

AQUARIUM TRADE

tank

While I can understand why it would be brilliant to own a pet seahorse at home, it’s not wonderful to know that a lot of seahorses for pet trade are captured from the wild.

About 1 million per year, mainly juvenilles, are wild caught for the pet trade, with the Seahorse Trust reporting that less than a 1000 of these will survive more than 6 weeks. Usually from a slow and painful death.

These above are captive bred, but even so, waiting to be sold in a tiny tank with no shelter or proper habitat…

IRISH ARE CASHING IN ON DRIED SEAHORSES?

Worryingly closer to home,  a report suggests that Irish company Seahorse Ireland Ltd are going to start their own seahorse farms to breed seahorses then kill them to be dried to sell to the Chinese. The misguided idea is that this will ease wild caught seahorses. Surely the best thing would be to spread awareness and STOP the trade on dried seahorses rather than cashing in themselves on the death toll?

CAN WE CHANGE THINGS? 

Even if we make tiny changes ourselves, in turn big changes can take place. If every person shared knowledge with their friends and family and made some positive changes then maybe we can save these beautiful creatures from further destruction.

An example of this is the good news that in 2012  ebay, the largest online marketplace in the world, banned the sale of dried seahorses!  This was after a campaign from a seahorse charity in Devon, England.

After seeing dried seahorses for sale in a gift shop on Brighton seafront, I sent an email to Brighton sea life centre. I received a positive response saying that they were not aware of this and will now be looking into lobbying local shops.

Rainbow-colored-seahorse

WHAT WE CAN DO

Here are several ways we can make a difference. Again, if you spread awareness to friends and family then more and more people will be involved in changing the fate of the seahorse!

* Do not buy any seahorse souvenirs or medicines.

* Do not eat shrimp or any fish caught by trawlers – only buy from organic certified farms.

* Sign petitions online such as below. Campaign to ban he sale of seahorses and trawling.

http://www.thepetitionsite.com/734/419/316/ban-the-trade-in-seahorses/

* Spread awareness to local shops. By contacting Brighton Sealife centre, they were made aware that local dried seahorse trade was occurring in the area. Notify local marine conservation trusts if you come across shops selling these items.

* If you buy pet seahorses, make sure they are not wild caught but captive bred.

* Educate children on nature and conservation issues. Sparking a passion and respect for our world early on will build the foundations to a future society of rounded people that care for their environment. 

By Sarie Marshadlam

RELEVANT WEBSITES:

The Seahorse Trust:

http://www.theseahorsetrust.org/research.aspx

Project Seahorse:

http://www.zsl.org/conservation/regions/asia/project-seahorse/

Sea Life Centre:

http://www.visitsealife.com/

Save our Seahorses:

http://www.saveourseahorses.org/home.php