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Migration of Great Seahorses

Mar 9, 2023

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Context

Probable Question

Key Highlights of the Study

About the Seahorse

Vulnerability of the Seahorse Population

Seahorse Migration

Cons of Seahorse Migration

Suggestions for the Conservation of Seahorses

Features of Seahorse

Conservation Initiative for Seahorses

Way Forward

Frequently Asked Questions

Migration of Great Seahorses

Context

According to a recent study, large seahorses are forced to migrate arduously toward Odisha by intensive fishing off the coast of Coromandel. 

Probable Question

What are the possible causes forcing the great seahorse to migrate laboriously? (150 words, 10 marks)

Key Highlights of the Study

About the Seahorse

  • Seahorse is a fish with a horse-like head.
  • There are 46 species of seahorses reported worldwide. 
  • Seahorse belongs to the family of fish, which is termed “Syngnathidae”, this also includes pipefishes and seadragons. 
  • The coastal ecosystems of India house nine out of 12 species found in the Indo-Pacific.
  • These seahorse populations are distributed across diverse ecosystems such as seagrass, mangroves, macroalgal beds, and coral reefs. 
  • These nine species are distributed along the coasts of eight States and five Union Territories from Gujarat to Odisha, apart from Lakshadweep and the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. 

Vulnerability of the Seahorse Population

  • Among the eight species classified as "vulnerable" is the population of the great seahorse.
  • It is due to the overexploitation of the seahorse population for traditional Chinese medicines and as ornamental fish, combined with general destructive fishing and fisheries bycatch. 

Also Read: Defending Our High Seas Against Pollution and Overfishing 

Seahorse Migration

  • Seahorse species are abundant off the Coromandel coast (Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu) but are under extensive fishing pressure, with 13 million individuals caught annually.
  • Thus to maintain their population seahorses migrate by rafting, clinging to floating substrata such as macroalgae or plastic debris for dispersal by ocean currents, to new habitats, despite the fact that they’re poor swimmers. 
  • The 1,300 km northward migration of the great seahorse from Palk Bay and the Gulf of Mannar to Odisha is likely a response to extensive fishing activities around the southern coast of India.  

Cons of Seahorse Migration 

  • Fishing is less intense in the Bay of Bengal off the Odisha coastline. But the shallow coastal ecosystem of the eastern Indian State may not be the seahorse's new comfort zone.
  • The seahorse population is under a great deal of pressure because it is highly dependent on local habitats to maintain its extensive and long-life history traits, despite the 2001 ban on fishing and trading of seahorses in India.
  • The great seahorse is not migrating in large numbers, as the Odisha coast does not have coral reefs or seagrass meadows that the species can call home, except within the Chilika region.

Suggestions for the Conservation of Seahorses

  • The study advised increased monitoring of the coastal ecosystems of India on the east coast for better conservation and management of the remaining seahorse populations. 
  • Even if seahorses migrate northwards, they would not have a suitable habitat, unless the fishing nets that catch them are banned or the fishing practices such as trawling are stopped.

Also Read: What is Purse Seine Fishing?

Features of Seahorse

  • Seahorses are found in both tropical and temperate waters all across the globe.
  • Seahorses are one of the most distinctive and endearing marine wildlife species currently in existence, if not the most. 
  • There are currently over 40 species of these "horses of the sea" that have been identified by scientists, with sizes ranging from over a foot to under one inch.  
  • Many people may not initially think of seahorses as "fish" because of their unusual anatomical shape and lack of scales. 
  • These fish thrive in a strong suit of robust armor-like plates, possess swim bladders to stay buoyant in the water, and use gills to breathe. 
  • They have few natural predators because of their hard, bony structure, which makes them difficult for other fish to digest. 

Conservation Initiative for Seahorses

Humans are probably one of the more significant threats to the species, harvesting the animals historically more quickly than they can reproduce, aside from crustaceans like crabs that can pick them up with their razor-sharp pincers. The following initiatives have been taken at the global level to protect seahorses:

  • Many species of syngnathid are now included in the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species or national equivalents. 
  • In addition to this, seahorse exports from 175 countries are limited to sustainable levels under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) of Wild Fauna and Flora. 

Way Forward

  • There is still a need to take significant steps and initiatives to protect seahorses, despite some progress against seahorse population depletion.
  • Seahorse and other syngnathid family members could be protected through the use of marine protected areas, fisheries management, specific aquaculture projects, trade regulation, better governance (in particular), and consumer engagement.

News Source: The Hindu

https://www.thehindu.com/sci-tech/energy-and-environment/great-seahorses-fleeing-coromandel-coast-due-to-overfishing/article66575776.ece

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the major facts about seahorses?

There are 46 species of seahorses reported worldwide. Seahorse belongs to the family of fish, which is termed “Syngnathidae”, which also includes pipefish and seadragons. These seahorse populations are distributed across diverse ecosystems such as seagrass, mangroves, macroalgal beds, and coral reefs. 

What is special about seahorses?

The population of seahorses is used in traditional Chinese medicine, as ornamental fish, and as bycatch in fishing operations. They have few natural predators because of their hard, bony structure, which makes them difficult for other fish to digest. 

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