Seahorses are in huge demand for use in traditional Chinese medicine. To our knowledge they are constantly collected from the wild for this purpose. They are also collected for the global aquarium trade and to some degree for drying for ornaments and souvenirs. Some researchers, notably from Project Seahorse, report that indiscriminate fishing for such purposes may be severely depleting wild populations in many areas. Others suggest that claims of decline in populations are overstated and that most species can be found in abundance if you know where to look. Nevertheless, in 2002 enough concern was expressed for the scarcity of seahorses in their natural habitat for them to be added to Appendix II of the United Nations Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). This came into effect in May 2004.
Therefore, the 160 Countries that subscribe to the principles of CITES only permit captive-bred seahorses to be traded, often under strict conditions, or occasionally wild caught specimens for special purposes (e.g. research).
Rudie Kuiter in his leading book "Seahorses Pipefishes and Their Relatives (2001)" suggests that habitat destruction is the biggest threat to seahorse populations. As seahorses often inhabit shallow coastal waters, inappropriate coastal developments that impact these areas may eliminate local populations. The ever present human desire to develop coastal areas is having significant impacts on marine environments around the world. Seahorses, however, are relatively adaptable and some species can be found around jetties or hanging onto the nets of sea-based aquaculture projects.
Australia was one of the first countries in the world to place restrictions on the collection of wild seahorses. Tasmania, Australia’s southern island state and home to Seahorse Australia, introduced a permit system for wild seahorse collection in 1998. Other Australian states have more recently introduced similar restrictions.
Captive breeding programs such as that at Seahorse Australia will help to ease the pressure on wild populations and has helped in public education about seahorses. Seahorses from our farm have been used in various school education programs and we have also assisted research by the Project Seahorse team, the Australian Maritime College and the University of Tasmania, Australian National University, University of Zurich and various others.