World’s smallest seahorse facing extinction in oil spill clean-up

One of the world’s smallest seahorse species could disappear due to the Gulf of Mexico oil spill and subsequent clean-up efforts, conservationists from the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) warned today.

dwarf-seahorse-photo-1.jpgNGS stock photo of dwarf seahorse by Robert Sisson

“The dwarf seahorse (Hippocampus zosterae), found only in waters off the Gulf Coast, now faces a bleak future after its much of its habitat was destroyed by the spill,” ZSL said in a news release.

“Scientists are worried that the clean-up process could further diminish dwarf seahorse populations and other marine life,” ZSL added.

Conservationists from the ZSL Project Seahorse team are urging BP to minimize the use of chemical dispersants and the burning of oil during the clean-up process, which is expected to take years, ZSL said.

The conservation charity said:

“Dwarf seahorses, which are less than one inch long, produce few young, making them vulnerable to environmental change.

“The population of dwarf seahorses is expected to decrease dramatically during the clean-up, after the spill exposed them to high levels of oil toxins and destroyed large swaths of their food-rich habitat.

“To slow the oil spill’s movement, BP has burned off the oil caught in seagrass mats floating in open water. While most seahorses live in seagrass beds in the coastal shallows of the Gulf, others live in these loose mats of vegetation offshore.

“Burning these mats has killed many marine animals while depriving others of their habitat and exposing them to further toxicity.”


NGS stock photo of dwarf seahorse by Robert Sisson

“Seagrass is vital to the long-term health of coastal ecosystems, sheltering marine animals, acting as fish nurseries, improving water quality, and preventing erosion. In extreme cases where seahorses are at high risk of poisoning such as this one, seagrass mats and beds can be cut to reduce toxic exposure,” said Heather Koldewey, ZSL’s program manager for the International Marine and Freshwater Conservation Programme.

“However we are urging BP to continue to use booms in the clean-up to isolate the oil slicks. These can be skimmed, left to evaporate, or treated with biological agents like fertilisers, which promote the growth of micro-organisms that biodegrade oil,” Koldewey said.

“It’s absolutely critical that measures be taken to preserve the seagrass mats and beds during this vulnerable time.”

Heather Masonjones, a seahorse biologist at the University of Tampa, said: “It’s absolutely critical that measures be taken to preserve the seagrass mats and beds during this vulnerable time.

“Incidents such as the explosion of the Mariner Energy oil platform, in the Gulf of Mexico only last Thursday, demonstrate how we must act quickly and carefully to give these fragile marine species the best chance of survival.”

ZSL is an international scientific, conservation and educational charity. It runs two zoos, including London Zoo, carries out scientific research at the Institute of Zoology, and is involved in field conservation internationally.

Posted by David Braun from media material submitted by ZSL.

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More than forty years in U.S., UK, and South African media gives David Max Braun global perspective and experience across multiple storytelling platforms. His coverage of science, nature, politics, and technology has been published/broadcast by the BBC, CNN, NPR, AP, UPI, National Geographic, TechWeb, De Telegraaf, Travel World, and Argus South African Newspapers. He has published two books and won several journalism awards. In his 22-year career at National Geographic he was VP and editor in chief of National Geographic Digital Media, and the founding editor of the National Geographic Society blog, hosting a global discussion on issues resonating with the Society's mission and initiatives. He also directed the Society side of the Fulbright-National Geographic Digital Storytelling Fellowship, awarded to Americans seeking the opportunity to spend nine months abroad, engaging local communities and sharing stories from the field with a global audience. A regular expert on National Geographic Expeditions, David also lectures on storytelling for impact. He has 120,000 followers on social media: Facebook  Twitter  LinkedIn