“I wonder how many of us purchase shellfish from sustainable sources in our weekly shop in the belief that we are supporting the conservation of marine ecosystems. While this is undoubtedly a sensible choice and a reasonable assumption, the article by Yip et al.: Food and feeding habits of the seahorses Hippocampus spinosissimus and Hippocampus trimaculatus (Malaysia) raises important issues with regard to the extensive coastal reclamation taking place in SE Asia. Some of this is linked to the development of the aquaculture industry that is vital for the national and local economies but nevertheless might unwittingly have a much wider impact on coastal ecosystem biodiversity than hitherto thought.

Yip and colleagues show that there are significant differences in seahorse diet depending on location and that these are likely due to the variation in site-specific resource availability and seahorse size. Seahorses are known to occur in variable bottom habitats from shallow (5 m) to deep waters of up to 100 m. Moreover, they appear to be specialists in their prey selection, focusing on slow moving epibenthic, hyperbenthic or canopy-dwelling crustaceans inhabiting mud-sand bottoms and habitats in, or associated with mudflat, seagrass or mangroves in shallow waters.

The important point here is that deep-water refuges for adults may not be sufficient to protect sea horse populations from the impacts of coastal development.  This increasingly threatens the habitats of juveniles in most tropical regions and clearly it is these small juveniles that are crucial for population renewal.

One way forward might be for marine biologists to work much more closely with the UNESCO Man and the Biosphere programme . MAB is a unique trans-disciplinary initiative that seeks to improve human livelihoods and the equitable sharing of benefits. In particular it aims to safeguard natural and managed ecosystems, promote innovative approaches to economic development that are socially and culturally appropriate, and environmentally sustainable.

This is surely in keeping with the aims and aspirations of all our science and education programmes.”

Click here for free access to the full article Food and feeding habits of the seahorses Hippocampus spinosissimus and Hippocampus trimaculatus (Malaysia) until 01 April 2016.

Image credit: John A. Anderson

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