The Search For Seahorses In Thailand
My name is Lindsay and Iâ€™m a PhD candidate and researcher with Project Seahorse. I study seahorses in their natural habitat to understand threats to seahorses and ultimately aid in conservation efforts. Iâ€™m currently working in Thailand and wanted to share a little bit about my current research.
Last year I spent eight months in Thailand gathering baseline information on seahorse populations along the Andaman (western) coast. The first month I spent building relationships with my new Thai partners and training my research assistants. In the three months that followed, I searched for seahorses by diving and snorkeling at various locations to determine several ideal locations for future research. The results of our intensive searches for seahorses yielded only eight individuals, an unexpectedly low number for the area surveyed.
On a positive note, two of these individuals were sightings of a seahorse species never before seen on the Andaman coast; the Japanese Seahorse Hippocampus mohnikei. This was a very exciting discovery – and I’m in the final stages of submitting a paper discussing the increase in range of this species.
The overall low numbers of seahorses found in our initial survey lead me to question why we found so few seahorses. Was it because we were surveying in the wrong habitats? Using inappropriate methods (Even though they had worked elsewhere)? Or was there so much fishing, and therefore accidental capture of seahorses in fishing gear, there were few seahorses remaining in the areas surveyed? Understanding how to answer these questions has now become the central question to my PhD research.
Not to be discouraged, I spent the next four months interviewing fishermen, asking for their input on how often they catch seahorses, what habitats they live in, and creating maps where seahorses can are found. With this information, I have been able to identify many locations on the Andaman coast where fishers report high occurrences of seahorses.
I’m now starting my second field season, in which I will test the efficiency of different underwater sampling methods. By searching in areas where divers and fishers have reported sighting seahorses, I can evaluate what conditions increase the likelihood of finding seahorses as well as determine which methods are the best for sampling.
By combining the data from fishers regarding the incidental capture rate of seahorses along side the mapping of fishing grounds; I will now be able to estimate how many seahorses are captured by fishers each year. This finally allows me to assess if there is a link between fishing and low numbers of seahorses.
I’ve just returned to Thailand and have started my second year of research (diving) this week. Our first site is a place in Phuket called Kata Beach – where several dive instructors have reported constant seahorse sightings over the past six months. Weâ€™ve been diving here for a week so far and have seen six seahorses â€“ mostly Hippocampus kuda and Hippocampus spinosissimus! Looks like this season is off to a good start.
Thanks again to everyone who helped support my research last year. It was an exciting and challenging year and I’m looking forward to more seahorse adventures in 2014.
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