Thailand Acts to Protect Vulnerable Seahorses

Conservationists are celebrating a win for seahorses with an announcement from Thailand that it’s going to suspend exports over concerns that they’re being overexploited.

The move was announced by Thailand officials just before the 17th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) in Johannesburg, South Africa, which is ending this week.

According to CITES more than three-quarters of the seahorses who wind up in international trade each year come from Thailand, while five million dried seahorses who were taken from the wild have been exported annually since 2004.

Although the trade in seahorses in global, that volume has made Thailand the world’s largest exporter of these unique creatures, and has raised serious concerns about how the market is impacting them. Most of them are exported dried to be used in traditional medicine, but they’re also exported as souvenirs, and live for aquariums.

The ban on exports is temporary, and the trade may resume in the future, but conservationists are applauding the move and hope it will give seahorses in the wild a chance to recover, while also giving researchers more time to study how the trade is impacting them.

“It’s a way station to getting serious management in place,” said Dr. Amanda Vincent of the University of British Columbia.

Vinvent is also the director of Project Seahorse – a partnership between UBC and the Zoological Society of London, which officially acts as part of the Seahorse, Pipefish and Stickleback Specialist Group (SPS SG) for the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

The organization  worked with Thailand’s Department of Fisheries studying seahorse populations and fisheries, along with approaches for export management at the request of CITES.

Even with the ban on exports, they’re still threatened by other problems including habitat loss and pollution, and one of the biggest threats to their survival still remains – being accidentally caught and killed as bycatch by indiscriminate trawlers and in gillnets, especially those targeting shrimp.

Hopefully efforts to protect seahorses, whose distinct physical appearance, monogamous partnerships and ritual courtship routines, and whose unique male births have led us to marvel over them, will help them thrive and will also in turn help protect their ecosystems and other species. Even though they’re small, seahorses play a vital role as predators of smaller organisms, and are also considered a flagship species whose populations can indicate the health of the overall environment.

For more info on how to help, check out Project Seahorse.

Photo credit: Thinkstock

99 comments

heather g.
heather g7 months ago

Why is there such a lack of education. It's a good move on the part of the Thai Government, but how do they propose to keep tabs on fishermen....

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Marie W.
Marie W7 months ago

Everything needs protection from humans.

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Jennifer H.
Jennifer H7 months ago

Amazing creatures. I just can't understand catching them just to "dry" them. Awful. Glad they are finally able to get some protections. But again with the "medicinal value".

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Miss D.
Misss D7 months ago

What a wonderful and forward thinking decision by Thailand just before the CITES summit. Thank you.

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Siyus Copetallus
Siyus Copetallus7 months ago

Thank you for sharing.

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Edo R.
Edo R7 months ago

Thanks for sharing!

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Evelyn M.
Evelyn M7 months ago

I hope it all works out. They need the protection.

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Melania Padilla
Melania Padilla7 months ago

Awesome, I hope it is not too late

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Jen S.
Jen S7 months ago

Applause for the people of Thailand!

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Peggy B.
Peggy B7 months ago

Brilliant.

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