Secret seahorses in the Thames revealed
Monday 7 April 2008
Protection of a British seahorse by the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 is excellent news for the Thames, reveal conservationists from the Zoological Society of London.
The Society discloses today that a number of short-snouted seahorses (Hippocampus hippocampus) have recently been discovered in the Thames during routine conservation surveys.
ZSL didn’t announce the findings publicly when they occurred because the creatures were not protected by the Act. Usually found in shallow muddy waters, estuaries or seagrass beds, their presence in the Thames estuary is another good sign that the water quality of the river is improving - but any disturbance to their habitats could be disastrous.
Conservationists are relieved that the animals now have the full protection of the law and hope that announcing their previously hush-hush existence in the Thames will remind people how important it is to maintain the cleanliness of British waterways.
ZSL’s Marine and Freshwater Conservation Programme Manager, Alison Shaw, said: “These amazing creatures have been found in the Thames on a number of occasions in the last 18 months during our regular wildlife monitoring work. It demonstrates that the Thames is becoming a sustainable biodiverse habitat for aquatic life. It is not clear how endangered short-snouted seahorses are because there is little data known, particularly in the UK, so every scrap of information is valuable. Now they are protected conservationists are more relaxed about telling the world they are there.”
It was announced in February that the short-snouted seahorse, together with the water vole, angel shark, roman snail and long-snouted seahorse will gain protection against being killed, injured, or taken from the wild from yesterday (6th April). They join the list of wildlife species such as the otter and grass snake that already enjoy protection under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. In addition, the possession or selling of the water vole, short-snouted seahorse, spiny seahorse and roman snail will become an offence. It will also become an offence to damage or obstruct the short-snouted and long-snouted seahorses' place of shelter or disturb them in their place of shelter.
Both the short-snouted and long-snouted seahorse (Hippocampus guttulatus) are kept and bred in the aquarium at ZSL London Zoo, where aquarists are studying their life history and behaviour in an effort to understand more about them so their wild habitats and requirements can be protected. The European breeding programme for both species is also managed by the Zoological Society of London.
ZSL’s Project Seahorse, an international team of biologists, development specialists, and other professionals, is committed to conserving and managing seahorses. In Europe, we are conducting the first genetic study to determine how seahorse populations differ across Europe and a second study into how seahorses are affected by environmental change. All of this information, together with the Zoo’s ex-situ studies, will help to conserve these enchanting animals for the future.
The Zoological Society of London is the co-founder and major partner in the global Project Seahorse initiative, committed to the conservation and sustainable use of the world’s coastal marine ecosystems Project Seahorse
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Notes to editors
The genetic research project is a joint initiative with Royal Holloway, University of London. The environmental change project is joint with the University of British Columbia, Canada.
Images available on request
Founded in 1826, the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) is an international scientific, conservation and educational charity: our key role is the conservation of animals and their habitats. The Society runs ZSL London Zoo and ZSL Whipsnade Zoo, carries out scientific research in the Institute of Zoology and is actively involved in field conservation in other countries worldwide.
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