Project Seahorse started in 1996. Its inspiration began with Dr. Amanda Vincent’s early research on seahorses in the late 1980s, while at Cambridge University. At the time, most of what was known about syngnathids was decades old. Dr. Vincent was one of the first scientists to document seahorses’ unusual mating habits.
Dr. Vincent discovered the trade in seahorses was much larger than previously suspected. By the early 1990s, it was clear that many species were facing extreme pressure from over-exploitation, pressure that was also damaging entire marine ecosystems. Dr. Vincent and Dr. Heather Koldewey, who was carrying out genetic analysis of seahorses as a research associate at the Zoological Society of London, launched Project Seahorse. Together they established an international team of researchers and community development specialists dedicated to finding ways to reduce those pressures, protect seahorse populations and ensure sustainable livelihoods for those who depend on seahorse fishing.
Beginning with the community of Handumon in the Philippines, the Project quickly spread to other countries, attracting scientists and other professionals interested in marine conservation and sustainable development. The Philippines is still home to the Project's largest contingent, with about 16 full-time students, scientists, researchers and community development specialists. Post-graduate students have conducted field research in Portugal, Central America, Sri Lanka and Vietnam.
Project Seahorse's success at building community support resulted in the creation of several partnerships, most notably with the John G. Shedd Aquarium in Chicago. Our other partners are the University of British Columbia, where Dr. Vincent holds Canada Research Chair in Marine Conservation; the Zoological Society of London, where Dr. Koldewey is Programme Manager for International Marine and Freshwater Conservation; and the TRAFFIC network's East Asia office in Hong Kong, with whom we work closely on international trade issues.
By late 2002, the team had grown to include nearly 40 researchers, community development specialists and support staff, with project alumni working on every continent. The team moved its headquarters from McGill University in Montreal to the Fisheries Centre at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver. In the Philippines, the Project developed a fruitful partnership with the Haribon Foundation for the Conservation of Natural Resources, which has several decades of experience in wildlife conservation.
A few months later, the Project Seahorse Foundation for Marine Conservation was established to oversee operations in the Philippines, replacing the joint venture with the Haribon Foundation for the Conservation of Natural Resources, the project’s original Filipino partner. The Foundation is run by a seven-member board of trustees and is registered with the Philippines Securities and Exchange Commission.
In 2006, Project Seahorse put together a retrospective of its first decade, Project Seahorse at 10.