Exports of a vulnerable seahorse species from two west African countries are now banned, thanks to work carried out by Project Seahorse and funded by UK-based wildlife charity People’s Trust for Endangered Species (PTES) and the Mohamd bin Zayed Species Conservation Fund.
Last month the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) — the United Nations body tasked with ensuring that global wildlife trade does not damage wild populations — announced the suspension of all exports of the threatened West African seahorse species (Hippocampus algiricus) from Senegal and Guinea.
“The CITES decision is an important move that should help reduce pressures on wild seahorses in these waters while also providing the context for significant new conservation work in the region,” says Nida Al-Fulaij, Grants Manager at PTES.
CITES is the only international organisation with the ability to enforce export controls. Once a species is placed on Appendix II of the Convention, all 181 member countries must guarantee that any exports are sustainable and that the specimens were obtained legally.
The decision was largely based on investigations by Project Seahorse scientists working at the University of British Columbia (UBC, Canada), the Zoological Society of London and Imperial College London. The research showed that that the number of West African seahorses in trade had risen dramatically over time, to reported exports as high as 260,000 seahorses in a year. This seahorse species is used primarily in traditional Chinese medicine, with most exports going to China.
“Global demand for seahorses drives the trade of 15-20 million animals every year, with many more being caught. In recent years, the West African seahorse has become highly sought, in part because seahorse populations in Asia have become depleted,” says Professor Amanda Vincent, co-Principal Investigator, Director of Project Seahorse and Professor in the Institute for the Oceans and Fisheries at UBC.
The West African seahorse is listed as ‘Vulnerable’ on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Until the Project Seahorse study, virtually nothing was known about the species or the threats it faced.
Project Seahorse is now planning to support Guinea and Senegal as they move to address CITES recommendations and establish sustainable trade in seahorses.
“The goal is sustainability. Our findings will be shared with the Senegalese and other governments so they can meet their CITES obligations to ensure that in the future their seahorse exports do not harm wild populations,” says Dr. Chris Ransom, co-Principal Investigator and North Africa Programme Manager at ZSL.
“Together we will help seahorse populations to thrive.”