Global marine conservationists seek help to protect seahorses with a new app called iSeahorse.
Annually, approximately 13 million seahorses—live and dead—are traded around the globe. At this scale, the seahorse trade is potentially very destructive to a group of animals comprised of 48 species, 11 of which are listed by the International Union for Conservation and Nature (IUCN) as threatened with extinction.
“We’ve made important scientific breakthroughs with seahorses in recent years, but they remain incredibly enigmatic animals,” said Amanda Vincent, Director of Project Seahorse, at the University of Columbia (UBC), and the Zoological Society of London (ZSL)’s joint marine conservation initiative.
Small white seahorse (Hippocampus kuda) hiding in sponges. Photo by Nick Hobgood / Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.
For this reason, scientists from UBC, ZSL and the John G. Shedd Aquarium have launched a smartphone app that allows ordinary people to crowdsource data on these unmistakable fish. The app is specifically designed for users to log details of seahorse sightings on their iPhones or iPads wherever and whenever they encounter the animal.
“We know that seahorses are threatened by overfishing, destructive fishing practices, and habitat loss. Now we need to pinpoint populations and places that most need conservation action,” said Heather Koldewey, co-founder of Project Seahorse and Head of Global Conservation Programmes at ZSL.
iSeahorse hopes to expand interest and knowledge beyond professional scientists to “citizen scientists,” everyday people who want to be part of a global initiative to protect seahorses.
“By leveraging the enthusiasm of everyone from fishers to scuba divers to people on vacations at the beach, we’ll create a more comprehensive picture of seahorse populations around the world. This in turn will inspire new scientific research and practical conservation measures that can help protect ocean habitats,” added Chuck Knapp, Vice President of Conservation and Research at Shedd.
Satomi’s pygmy seahorse (Hippocampus satomiae) on coral. Photo by John Sear / Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license.
The app is connected to iSeahorse and represents a pilot collaboration with iNaturalist, a group similar in operation but records what a person sees in nature instead of tracking seahorses. The next phase of this extraordinary device will include population monitoring, advocacy tools and a social media component.