Saving the cute, little ‘sharks’ of the seabed

PETALING JAYA: A pure carnivore, it stalks the seabed, hunting anything smaller than itself, and by the end of the day, would have eaten some 3,000 prey.

But this predator looks nothing like the great white sharks, the killer whales or saltwater crocodiles. It’s a cute little thing.

The tiny seahorse is actually quite the hunter, eating everything that fits into its tiny mouth including fish, prawns, marine worms and crabs.

“They’re purely carnivorous. They are like the weird, cute ‘sharks’ at the bottom of the ocean,” says Save our Seahorses (SOS) Malaysia chairman Adam Lim.

The seahorse is a ferocious hunter with an insatiable appetite but also a lousy swimmer which gets easily trapped in nets. (Adam Lim pic)

In an interview with FMT, Lim said the seahorses’ ferocious appetite made them an invaluable part of the food chain as they helped keep the ecological balance, especially on seabeds.

He said that without seahorses, there would be too many smaller animals grazing on the seagrass which provide a habitat for sea creatures and maintain water quality.

Yet, despite the importance of seahorses, there is no specific law to protect them from being killed to become anything from traditional medicine recipes or as a tasty evening snack.

“They are really horrible swimmers so they don’t stand a chance against trawler nets. They aren’t what fishermen look for but they are a bonus catch,” he said.

While the consumption of seahorses is often associated with traditional Chinese medicine, Lim said his organisation’s research also found them to be popular among Malay and Indian communities.

“Malays on the east coast especially, eat them sun dried as a teatime snack, while there are Indians who use seahorses as an ingredient in making balms for the skin.”

Adam Lim.

Lim says that according to international data, seahorses from Malaysia account for 2% of the global trade and the sale of seahorses is unregulated, unlike in other countries.

“So the only place they are safe are in marine parks where all sea creatures are off-limits.”

SOS, as part of its mission to better protect seahorses, is trying to establish what Malaysians know about seahorses, the trading of seahorses, how they are consumed, and so on to identify the best way forward.

This is being done through a campaign called “Tracing Our Seahorses” which comprises online surveys and engagements with stakeholders like fishermen, traders and traditional Chinese medicine practitioners.

“Once we have a clearer, more precise picture, we will work with the relevant stakeholders to propose laws, awareness programmes, sustainable trade recommendations and conservation measures,” Lim said.

“Not just of seahorses per se, but their habitats as well.”

On the engagements with stakeholders, he said they were encouraging traditional medicine practitioners to opt for alternative ingredients, while SOS was raising awareness with fishermen on the crucial role seahorses play in the ecosystem and what would happen in their absence.

So, do your part for Malaysia’s seahorses – take part in SOS’ survey by visiting http://bit.ly/seahorsemy.

By : Robin Augustin – FMT

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