Rare seahorses spotted for first time in Philippines by citizen scientist

A diver has captured on camera two rare species of seahorse in the Philippines that had previously never been seen before in the country’s seas.

The photographs of a weedy pygmy seahorse (Hippocampus pontohi) and Severn’s pygmy seahorse (Hippocampus severnsi) were submitted to the iSeahorse app, which collates sightings from the public, and have been verified by the Zoological Society of London’s (ZSL) Project Seahorse as the first records of these species in the Philippines.

The new observations mean that there are now a total of eleven species of seahorse known to inhabit Philippine waters. Conservationists hope that news of this discovery will encourage other members of the public to keep their eyes peeled for these chameleon-like fish when they are out snorkelling or diving in coastal waters.

Hippocampus pontohi weedy pygmy seahorse

The seahorses were spotted near to the island of Romblon which lies in the West Philippine Sea. There is not currently enough data to assess the conservation status of these two species, but it is hoped this new expansion of their range will help conservationists piece together the missing information.

iSeahorse Philippines coordinator for Project Seahorse, Chai Apale says: “The exciting discovery of these seahorses in new waters demonstrates the important role citizen scientists can play in conservation.

“Seahorses are found across the globe from Hastings to the Seychelles. Now that the holiday season is in full swing, we’re encouraging the public to don their flippers and use the iSeahorse app to record their seahorse sightings.”

Hippocampus pontohi: weedy pygmy seahorse

The weedy pygmy seahorse was previously only known to inhabit Indonesian waters. It is one of the smallest seahorses growing to maximum height of 1.4cm but astonishingly it is bigger than the Severn’s pygmy seahorse, which grows to just 1.3cm - smaller than a sugar cube.

Their miniature stature means that they are less likely to become bycatch in shrimp fisheries than other species of seahorse, a major threat to seahorse populations globally. However, overfishing and shoreline development pose an increasing threat to the coral reefs that they inhabit.

Research assistant at Project Seahorse, Riley Pollom says: “Millions of seahorses are caught and traded dead and alive all over the world. They are mysterious creatures and poorly understood, but through iSeahorse we hope to harness the collective knowledge of citizen scientists to learn more about them and develop appropriate conservation protections.

“To date, more than 500 sightings have been submitted from all over the world and they will contribute towards ensuring seahorses remain a permanent feature of our coastal waters.”

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