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Ria Formosa seahorse population below critical level

seahorseThe Ria Formosa lagoon once was home to the largest community of seahorses in the world but the creatures now are in danger of extinction after a recent survey showed their numbers have declined below the level from which they can recover.

The reason for the decline in numbers is the illegal netting of the timid creatures, for drying out and sale into the Chinese medicine market.

Biologist Miguel Correia collected information from many of the sampling zones analysed in a population census taken by the Centre for Marine Sciences of the University of Algarve in early 2018.

Correia reported that on 8 of his 15 dives there were no seahorses at all. At four other sites he visited, he found only one or two of the animals.

In the 3,800 square meters of legally protected area that Correia surveyed, there were only 40 seahorses. This represented an 80% collapse in numbers since the 2012 census.

The numbers now are so low that the population will not be able to replace itself.

The scientific estimate is that there are as few as 155,000 seahorses left in the Ria Formosa. This means that, in the past six years, almost 600,000 have disappeared.

In 2001, when Canadian researcher Janelle Curtis discovered that the Ria Formosa had the biggest seahorse population in the world, the number was estimated at 1.3 million.

In an interview with Expresso, Miguel Correia said the capture of seahorses, "is done in a brutal way, by dragging a bar with a net, behind a boat, picking up everything wherever it goes. Seahorses are sedentary, they live in 100-square-metre areas and this bottom trawling totally decimates their homes. Those that are not swept up, are left all alone, reducing the possibility of population replacement. And in addition to netting the seahorses, this destroys their prairies making it impossible for the species to return. During dives, the disappearance of large stretches of sea grass is evident. There is only mud, no places where seahorses can hang on."

The situation has been reported to the Criminal Investigation Service of the Maritime Police and an investigation was opened a few months ago but Expresso said it already has identified a criminal network operating in Olhão, with links to the Far East and Spain.

The price of dried seahorse has soared due to its very shortage, which entices more fishermen to act illegally - unsurprisingly, when a kilo of seahorse fetches around €4,000 in the market for Chinese medicines, with locals receiving around €1,500 per kilo.

It is accurate to state that the authorities have been doing less than the bare minimum to clamp down on the illegal capture of seahorses, so the situation will not improve, to the detriment of the biodiversity of the Ria Formosa natural park.

Comments  

+1 #2 mj1 2018-11-07 21:18
another sad loss, no doubt the government will do something quickly...or are you thinking what I'm thinking? :sad:
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0 #1 Grotty Yotty 2018-11-07 11:47
Surely, we can think up some way of foiling the dragsters? Chains? Moreover, that E4000/kg is for totally nefarious, pointless purposes... :sad: :cry:
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