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The Project Seahorse NewsletterWinter 2017

Our work leads to significant international change, as Thailand suspends seahorse exports

In October 2016, Thailand announced at the global CITES* meeting that it has suspended all seahorse exports until it can trade in a sustainable manner, without damaging their wild populations.  This is hugely significant because Thailand is by far the world’s largest exporter of wild seahorses, responsible for more than three-quarters of the documented international trade.

Project Seahorse has long been the primary engine behind all CITES work on seahorses, and was responsible for seahorses becoming the first marine fishes regulated under its CITES Appendix II provision (controlled trade).  In this specific instance, we have worked with Thailand’s Department of Fisheries on tools and approaches for export management, as well as assessing Thailand’s seahorse populations, fisheries and trade.  
Meeting CITES recommendations on the complex and very large trade in these quirky fishes is a big challenge, and we understand why Thailand has decided that a trade suspension would allow it more time to get export regulations right.  Thailand must, however, ensure that trade does not just continue illegally.  Moreover, Thailand must address the very large bycatch of seahorses in indiscriminate gear, especially trawls; such capture will continue whatever the export regulations. 

In this video our director, Dr. Amanda Vincent, answered some specific questions about Thailand’s decision and explained Project Seahorse’s key role in this tackling this important conservation issue.  

Now we are eager to help Thailand obtain what it needs in terms of tools, resources, and support to manage its seahorse exports sustainably.  Together we’ll help seahorse populations to thrive. 

Our new seahorse taxonomy helps advance conservation

Project Seahorse recently created and published a new taxonomy for the seahorses, genus Hippocampus, in support of conservation and management of these vulnerable marine fishes. This work is set to become the standard global nomenclature for this taxon, resolving some notably challenging issues.  That said, taxonomy remains very fluid and this probably won’t be our last word on the problem.  For now, though …

Our research distilled a chaos of 73 names into 41 real species, based on the best available morphological, genetic, and geographic information.  Our usual pragmatism shone through, too.  When dealing with difficult scientific decisions, we took into account the challenges faced by fisheries managers, Customs officers and citizen scientists in making clear identifications.  That meant making sure that all species could be distinguished by their morphology alone.

Our changes will help advance seahorse conserva
tion and management by reducing confusion surrounding seahorse identities.  Such improvement is vital for assessing the conservation status of these quirky fishes and for regulating their fisheries and trades.  In particular, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) requires 182 member countries to ensure that their exports do not damage wild populations, by species.  We expect CITES to adopt our taxonomy as the formal reference.   

Find out more here

If you have any questions or comments – or would like to receive a copy of the revision – please email us at

Our director is encouraged and inspired by the best

Our Director, Amanda Vincent, has had a wonderful few months of fabulous brainstorming with top flight minds in conservation and enterprise.  She is now buzzing with new energy and ideas for our own programmes.

It started at the global CITES meeting in Johannesburg, where she was (with our Dr. Sarah Foster) part of the IUCN/WWF/TRAFFIC team.  Morning briefings were hugely impressive, as this remarkable group of conservation policy wonks assessed issues and options … and planned interventions and action.  Evenings were full of excitement, too, trying to make sense of the drama of the days and ensure meaningful progress.

In October, Amanda went to Indianapolis Zoo, as one of the six finalists for the illustrious Indianapolis Prize in Animal Conservation.  The Zoo’s VIP treatment was magical but the biggest joy came from sharing time with the other finalists and all the conservation practitioners and supporters who were celebrating our progress.  Congratulations to Carl Jones, the worthiest eventual winner, who has developed and led many successful recoveries for reptiles, mammals and birds.

Also in October, Amanda met with other Pew Fellows in Marine Conservation – the top award in the field – in Amsterdam.  This annual think tank never fails to revitalize and renew.  This year marked the 20th anniversary of the Pew Fellows Program in Marine Conservation - 20 years of addressing ocean conservation challenges.

The final extravaganza for 2016 came in November when Amanda attended the 40th Anniversary celebrations for the Rolex Awards for Enterprise – which she won in 1998 – in Los Angeles.  The Rolex Awards for Enterprise support inspiring individuals who carry out innovative projects that advance human knowledge or well-being. The huge diversity of winners – across exploration, applied science, culture, technology and the environment – created a veritable feast of brilliance and inspiration.   Now to carry it all forward.

Latest publications

Aylesworth, L., Phoonsawat, R., Suvanachai, P., & Vincent, A. C. (2016). Generating spatial data for marine conservation and management. Biodiversity and Conservation, 1-17.

Aylesworth, L. (2016). Developing conservation action for data-poor species using seahorses as a case study (Doctoral dissertation, University of British Columbia).  

Cisneros-Montemayor, A., & Vincent, A. (2016). Science, society, and flagship species: social and political history as keys to conservation outcomes in the Gulf of California. Ecology and Society, 21(2).  

Foster, S.J. (2016). Seahorses (Hippocampus spp.) and the CITES Review of Significant Trade. Fisheries Centre Research Reports 24(4): 48 pp.  

Lourie, S. A., Pollom, R. A., & Foster, S. J. (2016). A global revision of the Seahorses Hippocampus Rafinesque 1810 (Actinopterygii: Syngnathiformes): Taxonomy and biogeography with recommendations for further research. Zootaxa, 4146(1), 1-66. 

Selgrath, J. C., Roelfsema, C., Gergel, S. E., & Vincent, A. C. (2016). Mapping for coral reef conservation: comparing the value of participatory and remote sensing approaches. Ecosphere, 7(5). 

Thompson, B. S., Bladon, A. J., Fahad, Z. H., Mohsanin, S., & Koldewey, H. J. (2016). Evaluation of the ecological effectiveness and social appropriateness of fishing regulations in the Bangladesh Sundarbans using a new multi-disciplinary assessment framework. Fisheries Research, 183, 410-423.   

Guylian Seahorses of the World Photo Competition
Congratulations to Luc Eeckhaut, our 2016 winner! His stunning snapshot (right) of a Hedgehog seahorse (Hippocampus spinosissimus) features a boldly hued sea squirt, the blue bell tunicate (Clavelina moluccensis). The Seahorses of the World category is sponsored by our long-time supporter Guylian Chocolates

View some of the winning entries here
From the blog

I am tired. So. Very. Tired. And as I sit here on the plane heading back to Canada from South Africa, a childhood rhyme is playing through my head… "Slowly, slowly, very slowly, creeps the garden snail…slowly, slowly, very slowly up the garden trail…". Such was the pace of the 17th meeting of the CITES Conference of the Parties. What is that?  

– Sarah Foster, "Where conservation happens"
Gathering of syngnathid bright minds

Come join us at SyngBIO 2017, the third meeting of researchers and other professionals working to understand the unique biology of Syngnathid fishes (seahorses, pipefishes, pipehorses, and seadragons).   

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New faces at PS

Please join us in welcoming Lily Stanton to the Project Seahorse Team.  At Project Seahorse, Lily’s role will be to provide technical and biological support to iSeahorse and the IUCN Seahorse, Pipefish & Stickleback Specialist Group

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2000+ observations on iSeahorse !

Great news!!  This summer we reached our 2000th seahorse observation on iSeahorse - our pioneering citizen science website and smartphone app that allows anyone to contribute to the science and conservation of seahorses.    

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