Seahorse populations are declining through overfishing, poor fishing practices and habitat loss. Project Seahorse urges researchers, policy-makers, and stakeholders around the world to take note of the latest IUCN – World Conservation Union Red List, which has updated the status of several species of seahorse. The increased number of species now categorized as Data Deficient should serve as a call to action for biologists, fisheries managers and others with an interest in sustainable trade in marine resources.
The Red List relies on quantitative information to determine the status of wildlife populations. Listing a species as Threatened under the current IUCN criteria demands more data, information that scientists are only now gathering. Many marine species in particular are still poorly understood, and it is this lack of knowledge that lies behind the decision to reclassify many species, including seahorses.
Project Seahorse supports sound management decisions based on the best available science, and we caution against premature conclusions based on the new Red List. The reclassification of several species of seahorses from Vulnerable to Data Deficient is a reminder that conservation prospects cannot be evaluated without better information on how species are faring. Until our understanding improves, we run the risk of losing species about which we know little. At the same time, the threats to seahorse habitats are widely recognized, and the deteriorating state of coral reefs, mangroves, seagrass beds and other coastal ecosystems around the world should be cause for concern for all marine species on the Red List.
As the IUCN’s designated Red List Authority on seahorses and their relatives, Project Seahorse is committed to advancing marine conservation through rigorous and integrated science. Our determination to present knowledge in an unbiased manner is one reason why Project Seahorse enjoys credibility in international forums, and helped convince CITES to add seahorses to the list of species under its management. Sustainable international trade in seahorses and other species will only be possible if we have the right management tools at our disposal. As ever, the 2003 IUCN Red List should prompt a renewed sense of urgency in marine research and conservation.