Adorable and In Danger: Dwarf Sea Horses

dwarf-seahorse-extinction-endangered-gulf-of-mexicoEveryday animals are going in and out of danger and as a voiceless population they require humans to act on their behalf. The Endangered Species List is constantly being updated and changed, and sometimes that isn’t even happening quickly enough. Mostly the delay is necessary so that research and methods of approach can be developed, but is still wasting time before important action on behalf of endangered species can occur.

And this is just the case with the charming dwarf seahorse. The little aquatic oddities are ethereal and bizarre looking, strait out of a surreal painting or magical fairy tale. Every morning the seahorses greet their mate (they mate for life) with a special dance and then as most seahorses do, the females transfer their eggs to the male pouch, which hatch and produce miniature versions of the adults.

The sea creatures are only 2 inches long at most, which makes them the smallest seahorse in the Americas. The dwarf seahorse is the third smallest seahorse species in the world and the Guinness Book of World Records remarks that they are the slowest moving fish because of their size. The seahorses are found in the Gulf of Mexico, the Atlantic Coast of Florida, and the Caribbean.

It is the Gulf of Mexico where the creatures are in the most danger, although they could use protection under the Endangered Species Act as a species. They are under threat because of pollution and loss of habitat. The water in the Gulf of Mexico is degrading in quality and pollution from the Deepwater Horizon BP oil spill is causing irreversible pollution. The cleanup of that tragedy has also causes pollution and loss of their sea grass habitat.

Because dwarf seahorses are habitat specialists they die when the sea grass dies. The loss of sea grass is directly related to the population of the sea horses and they are particularly susceptible to habitat loss because they have low mobility, high site fidelity, patchy spatial distribution, and complex social and reproductive behavior.

More than 50 percent of Florida’s sea grasses have been destroyed since 1950. Some areas have suffered extreme losses, which range up to 90 percent in sea grass attrition rates. The sea grass has been disappearing prior to the BP oil spill, but the spill has exacerbated the problem extensively. Dwarf seahorses are particularly vulnerable and sensitive to oil pollution, which could potentially remain in the gulf for decades to come. Not only that, but the seahorse is also threatened too by boat propellers, shrimp trawlers, and ocean acidification from global climate change. Collectors who sell them in the aquarium trade and as curios and tradition medicine also capture the fish and deplete the population.

In the 1970s the dwarf seahorse was a common species, but has been in decline since that time and presently is near extinction. The dwarf seahorse is presently threatened by four out of five factors that the Endangered Species Act requires to warrant protection.

The Center for Biological Diversity of Phoenix, Arizona is in the process of getting dwarf seahorses added to the Endangered Species list, which will afford dwarf seahorses countless protections awarded under the Endangered Species Act of the Marine Fisheries Service.

In response to the petition the National Marine Fisheries Service has agreed that the dwarf seahorse may warrant protection under the Endangered Species Act. It is important that this cause continue to gather support from the public, which will help sway the National Marine Fisheries Service to hasten the process and begin to protect the dwarf seahorse as soon as possible! To show your support for the plight of the tiny seahorse with gigantic problems please sign the petition that is being hosted at Change.org.

Photo credit: dec.ny.gov/images/administration_images/0811seahorse3.jpg

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