Seahorses are the kind of creatures that it’s hard to believe exists – so dainty and otherworldly. Given how elusive they are, it’s not surprising that many Bermudians don’t know much about them. The Warwick Academy Bermuda Seahorse Project are here to tell us more about our fantastical friends:
What is the Warwick Academy Seahorse Project and what does it do?
The Warwick Academy Seahorse Project (WASP) aims to conserve and restore Bermuda’s seahorse population working in collaboration with Government organisations and the community at large.
How did the Project come about?
This all started with Deanna Friesen, a citizen scientist with a passion for seahorses, who noticed changes in their habitats and reduced numbers. She approached Dr Mark Outerbridge from the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) about this which led to a collaboration with Jessica Young, an Environmental Systems teacher at Warwick Academy.
They decided to create seahorse sanctuaries in an area of habitat decline to improve holdfasts for a small resident colony. After a permit was obtained, Mrs. Friesen took a small group of Warwick Academy students to survey the area, assessing existing habitats and potential new sanctuary spots (with suitable light and turbidity), before building and placing them.
This then led to a discussion on how to expand our impact. After speaking to LeAnn Hinton about the BZS 2000 survey and Jessica Reiderer about the 2016 survey, we decided on a five-year plan. This aims to get the community engaged and to gain more extensive and long-term systematic surveys, establishing reliable baseline data locally. We also hope to find out whether seahorses are seasonal or not.
We developed a partnership with Bermuda Zoological Society, with BAMZ aquarists Kate Cooper and Jessica Kehrli joining the team, as well as Edward Dawson from Warwick Academy. Together they gathered more population and abiotic testing data.
A Seahorse Enrichment Club was started at Warwick Academy, to train students to spot seahorses. Each week they go out to survey different locations where we think there may be seahorses and gather data on habitat, abiotic factors and population numbers.
How many seahorses are there in Bermuda’s waters – and how many different types?
This is what we aim to determine by conducting our surveys. We are primarily looking for two different species: lined seahorses and the longsnout/slender seahorses. A third species, the Dwarf Seahorse, has been documented in Bermuda but is presumed extinct now. It would be very exciting to find one, though! We have documented at least 99 seahorses since June 2022.
What threats do seahorses face?
Worldwide, seahorses are under threat due to fishing activities, harvesting, loss of habitats and climate change. Here, the last two are our major issues that has contributed to seahorse decline.
Is there anything we can be doing to help?
The public needs to be aware that our seahorses are protected species and listed on the red list for IUCN. It is illegal to collect them for personal aquariums and can result in up to a $25,000 fine and/or 2 years in prison.
Many of the seahorses live around docks and on old ropes and moorings. If people are thinking about replacing floating docks and moorings, they can check for seahorses, and work with WASP to protect them.
Is there any way for the general public to see seahorses in the wild (if so, any tips, words of warning)?
Seahorses can be found over many parts of the island if you look carefully. If you do find one, we encourage you to report your finding on seahorseproject.org. Your information is invaluable.
As they are a protected species, people must be very careful not to touch or disturb these delicate animals. The worst thing would be people going and using areas for tourist attractions. These habitats are often fragile and too many people in an area could lead to seahorses leaving. Please do not use flash photography, seahorses are very sensitive to light this could result in damage to their eyes.
If we all work together, while respecting the seahorse and their space we can make some valuable assessments that will allow us to determine what environmental stewardship is adequate for these species.