(June 14 2013 – Hong Kong) Ocean Park Conservation Foundation, Hong Kong (OPCFHK), the Foundation’s ground-breaking efforts in seahorse conservation took a giant “swim” forward today when the local seahorse survey team discovered a seahorse and were able to successfully tag and release it. The Foundation continues to survey the local seahorse populations and study individual wild seahorse habitats and movements in order to provide important data for the government and the community’s use when formulating a seashores conservation strategy that protects seahorses and their habitats. After five surveys conducted since May 2013, the Foundation has successfully tagged a male yellow seahorse (hippocampus kuda), with the number “801”. OPCFHK will survey a minimum of 34 local sites this year to tag all seahorses measuring 4cm or larger so as to scientifically monitor the long-term survivorship, growth, site fidelity and the home range of local seahorses. To enhance the comprehensiveness of the study and involve the public in the monitoring, the Foundation has established a community-based monitoring programme with the Hong Kong Underwater Association and over ten local dive shops to form a “Seahorse Sighting Network” for diving enthusiasts to report any seahorse sightings and help monitor the survivorship of seahorses during their diving activities.
OPCFHK initiated the first-ever comprehensive seahorse survey within local waters in 2011-12, subsequently expanding the scope of the survey and conducting a pilot study on the feasibility of seahorse tagging with two seahorses kept in Ocean Park. Ms Shadow Sin, Senior Scientific Officer of OPCFHK, said, “On June 6th, we found a male yellow seahorse that measured 11.6cm from head-to-tail in Sai Kung waters. Our divers tagged it with a small green oval PVC disc printed with the number “801”. Researchers tagged it underwater using a soft cord to the seahorse’s neck after body measurements, microhabitat and exact location of the seahorses were recorded by the GPS-enabled equipment.”
Ms Sin added, “As in previous years, GPS density surveys were conducted by having a group of four-to-six divers swimming in parallel searching for seahorses, with one diver towing a floating GPS device to measure the site area and record the sight locations upon sighting a seahorse, the divers would ascertain its gender and species, and record its height and the lengths of its head, trunk and tail. Photos would then be taken for species identification. The data collected would enable us to determine the composition, distribution, quantity and density of each species of seahorse.”
Selected sites with tagged seahorses will be re-visited regularly to search and record for their presence. Upon re-sighting, the body measurements, microhabitat and exact location of the seahorses would again be recorded to benefit further analyses on their survivorship, growth, site fidelity and home range. The survey findings for this year will be shared with the public.
Mr. Timothy Ng, Deputy Director of OPCFHK said, “Our second year survey and tagging process allow us to further study the local seahorse populations, and to provide survey results to the government and public for their consideration when undertaking coastal development projects which may impact the local seahorses and their natural habitats.”
To further extend the work of seahorse conservation, OPCFHK is now working with the local diving community to form a “Seahorse Sighting Network”. Mr. Ng said, “We are encouraging local divers to share information of seahorse sightings. When they find an untagged seahorse, they can report their sightings with date, exact location with depth, and the photos of the seahorse by emailing to us at firstname.lastname@example.org for follow-up work. If a tagged seahorse is sighted, they can also share with us a photo with the tag number clearly shown, exact location with depth and the date of the sighting for proper records. We also advocate divers to adopt a ‘no touch, no take and no disturbance’ approach to help protect seahorses and other marine life and their habitats.”
Members of the Network include the Hong Kong Underwater Association and over ten local dive shops, which will share the information on OPCFHK’s survey and the Network with their members through websites and social networks. Dive instructors are encouraged to share OPCFHK’s seahorse survey and the Seahorse Sighting Network with their students; dive masters are also encouraged to brief the divers about this Network in pre-diving briefings. A “Seahorse Survey” page will be added on OPCFHK’s website, featuring information on the major threats faced by the seahorses, OPCFHK’s seahorse survey, the tagging technique, and action tips for divers when they spot a seahorse, with an illustrated poster showing the steps for reporting sightings.
Degradation of habitats and bycatch can have an impact on the wellbeing of seahorses. Today, the global population of seahorses has dwindled drastically due in part to over-catching of seahorses for traditional medicinal use. As Hong Kong’s leading advocate for conservation, OPCFHK urges the public to help conserve these precious species and protect marine biodiversity.