Young Scientist Captures First-Ever Footage of West African Seahorse

The elusive West African Seahorse, Hippocampus algiricus, has been filmed for the first time off the coast of Senegal by Imperial College London’s student Kate West.

The West African seahorse, Hippocampus algiricus (Kate West / Project Seahorse)

Ms West, who is studying an MSc in Conservation Science in the Imperial College London’s Department of Life Sciences, captured the footage during an investigation into West Africa’s seahorse trade.

“The West African seahorse is one of two native species caught locally for trade around the world,” said Ms West, who is also a member of the Zoological Society of London’s Project Seahorse. “But it’s shocking that so little is known about this fish when more than a ton of them are officially exported each year.”

Research to date indicates that trade in West African seahorses has risen dramatically over the past few years, with exports of about 600,000 annually. They are used primarily in traditional Chinese medicine.

“In recent years, the West African seahorse has become highly sought after, along with many other seahorse species. Our fieldwork – the first ever study of this species – is revealing the fishing and trade pressures they face, and how populations can be sustained,” said Prof Amanda Vincent of the University of British Columbia, director of Project Seahorse.

Prof Vincent first uncovered the thriving global seahorse trade in the mid-1990s and co-founded Project Seahorse in response. The team’s efforts resulted in the Convention on Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) adopting international trade controls for seahorses in 2002.

“Poor diving conditions and underwater visibility off the West African coast make it more difficult to conduct field studies than in other areas where seahorses are found,” Ms West said. “No research has been done on this species, and nothing is known about its habitat, life cycle, or population status, which is why this study is so vital for their conservation.”

“Our findings will be shared with the Senegalese and other governments so they can meet their CITES obligations to ensure that the seahorse trade is sustainable,” said Dr Chris Ransom, West and North Africa Programme Manager at Zoological Society of London. “Together we will help seahorse populations to thrive.”

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Bibliographic information: Kate West. 2012. Investigating the West African seahorse trade. Newsletter of the University of British Columbia’s Fisheries Centre, vol. 18, no. 4

Kate West. Investigations into the Senegalese trade in CITES-listed seahorses, Hippocampus algiricus. Thesis. Imperial College London, September 2012