ZSL’s Dr Heather Koldewey and Dr Amanda Vincent founded Project Seahorse in 1996 to combat threats to seahorses across the globe. These unusual fish are vulnerable to over exploitation for traditional medicine, tourism trade and many types of fishing. We have been carrying out surveys and research to provide a scientific basis for changing regulations on seahorse harvesting, and setting up marine protected areas to protect seahorse habitat.
Why seahorses need protection
Seahorses are charismatic symbols of marine habitats, but sadly face serious threats. Every year, millions of seahorses are stripped from the sea by trawlers and fishers, while their habitats are polluted and destroyed. Seahorses are also flagship species, charismatic symbols of the seagrasses, mangroves, coral reefs, estuaries and seaweeds where they make their homes. They are important predators in the ecosystems in which they live, and are also valuable commodities for humans.
Find out more about seahorses and the conservation work that Project Seahorse is carying out.
Watch a male White's seahorse giving birth in the wild.
Key achievements and goals
Project Seahorse was co-founded by ZSL in 1996 to combat these global threats, and has since worked tirelessly to conserve and achieve the sustainable use of seahorses around the globe. By working to protect seahorses and their habitats, we are also working to ensure marine ecosystems are healthy and well-managed.
- Seahorse science and conservation
Our scientists were the first to study seahorses underwater, generating the very first estimates of seahorse growth and survival rates in the wild and making the discovery that many species form long-term monogamous pairs. We produced the first seahorse identification guide (1999), which has become the core reference for seahorse conservation and management action.
We completed the first synthesis and analysis of seahorse life history (2004), the first global review of seahorse aquaculture (2010) and a comprehensive review of the conservation and management of seahorses and other Syngnathidae (2011). We went from being a few biologists to becoming the IUCN Seahorse, Pipefish and Stickleback Specialist Group.
- Shallow seas conservation
We generate community-managed marine protected areas — 35 and counting since 1995 – in collaboration with local communities, and then help them to do their job well. We develop marine resource management tools that are used by governments, conservation groups, and other scientists all over the world.
Project Seahorse helped pioneer 'frugal' conservation — highly time-efficient, cost-effective methods of tracking changes in habitats and fish populations — and we have shown through our research that MPAs established quickly using local knowledge can be as or more effective than those set up using a slower, more rigorous scientific approach.
- Making fisheries & trade sustainable
We produced the world’s first analyses of the damaging effects of harvesting seahorses, and guided a landmark agreement to regulate international seahorse trade under Appendix II of CITES (2002), a first for marine fishes. Subsequent work has led to bans on export of seahorses from Vietnam (2013) and Senegal and Guinea (2016), bans which we hope these countries will be one day be able to lift, through good management using tools that we are developing.
Seahorses have been the flagship for marine fish species, highlighting how CITES can be a globally effective tool for their protection. We have helped to clarify and reinforce the role of CITES in the conservation of marine fishes subject to international trade, and we are building capacity to support the effective implementation of CITES regulations.
We also led development of the first conservation breeding for seahorses in public aquariums to address the live trade in seahorses and help make that trade sustainable. We have established a partnership with Hong Kong Traditional Chinese Medicine Merchants Association in Hong Kong (since 2003) to ensure that marine species are used sustainably in traditional medicine.
- Amplifying our efforts through training and outreach
We have mounted exhibits that have reached more than 10 million visitors to public aquariums, and Project Seahorse has trained over 175 professional conservationists around the world.
Furthermore, Project Seahorse has created a pioneering citizen science program, iSeahorse (2013) that invites everyone to contribute to seahorse science and conservation. In the Philippines, iSeahorse has confirmed the presence of three seahorse species that had not previously been recorded in the country, and has already led to the creation of a new marine protected area.
Project Seahorse’s work saving seahorses and marine habitats has been recognised with many international awards and honours, including the first ever Whitley Award in Animal Conservation in 1994. Project Seahorse director Dr. Amanda Vincent was a finalist for the Indianapolis Prize in Animal Conservation in 2010; hear more about her inspiring work in this short video.
Project Seahorse depends on the support of our partners and dedicated individuals to carry out its vital work. With your help, we will embark on another wave of conservation ventures to protect marine ecosystems.
Find out how you can get involved to help seahorses worldwide
ZSL's other work with seahorses
In April 2008, new legislation was brought into effect protecting British seahorses under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. We have had great success breeding these British seahorse species in our ZSL London Zoo Aquarium. Find out about seahorse breeding at the ZSL London Zoo Aquarium.
ZSL’s Heather Koldewey runs Project Seahorse
Partners and sponsors
Kindly funded by: Shedd Aquarium; Guylian; BBC Wildlife Fund; Oceanario Lisboa; Selfridges; Berlin Zoo Aquarium; Omaha's Henry Doorly Zoo, Environment Agency; University of British Columbia; University of Hong Kong; Synchronicity Earth; IUCN.