Between their increasing commercial value and their life history—pairs of many species bond for life, and the pregnant male must survive for the young to be born—seahorses are exceptionally vulnerable to overfishing.
In 2002, seahorses became the first commercially important marine fishes to gain protection under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), an international agreement that identifies wildlife species whose trade must be regulated to ensure their survival. For the convention to work, however, the signatory countries must have extensive data to manage their seahorse populations sustainably—data that for the most part don’t exist. That’s where Tse-Lynn’s surveys come in.
She is developing the first comprehensive distribution maps of seahorse populations in target countries in Southeast Asia, with detailed information on population structure and habitat quality. Together with information on life history, trade volumes and fishing levels collected by Project Seahorse researchers we will now have what we need to identify environmental pressures and make management recommendations to exporting countries.
Creating a network of seahorse conservationists
Much of Tse-Lynn’s work is also outreach. Her field assistants are local university students or people with a background in biology, environmental science, or natural resources. Working closely with in-country wildlife agencies and conservation organizations as well as those most familiar with seahorses—fishermen and local divers—she is establishing long-term field research sites where they can carry on the surveys. She has developed a citizen science toolkit, iSeahorse Trends, to train ordinary people on how to identify seahorse species in their region and start a monitoring program.
Tse-Lynn is also promoting iSeahorse Explore, a website and app developed by Project Seahorse that enables anyone anywhere in the world to contribute to seahorse conservation by sharing his or her sightings in the wild online or with a smartphone. This citizen scientist tool was launched by Project Seahorse and Shedd in October 2013.
Tse-Lynn already relies on social media to help her locate seahorses. Before her survey in Thailand last fall, she sent out a social media blast asking for sightings. It helped her refine her search along the country’s 2,000 miles of coastline.