The iconic seahorse will take the main stage at the upcoming Asia Dive Expo (ADEX) 2016. The world’s leading authority on seahorses, Canadian marine biologist Amanda Vincent will be on hand to involve the public in seahorse protection. Professor of Marine Conservation at Canada’s University of British Columbia, Vincent co-founded Project Seahorse, an international organization committed to conservation and sustainable use of the world’s coastal marine ecosystems, in 1996.
Project Seahorse at ASIA Dive Expo
At the heart of Project Seahorse’s campaign to inspire action is iSeahorse, a web tool and smartphone application launched in late 2013 in order to, in Vincent’s words, “democratize conservation”. These tools enable anyone to track and share their sightings and photographs of seahorses in the wild and upload them to iseahorse.org, providing researchers at Project Seahorse with vital information.
Mobilizing citizen scientists, by taking advantage of new Internet and mobile phone technologies, is a pivotal action for a number of new conservation projects. iSeahorse takes the idea further, encouraging people to engage in repetitive monitoring of seahorses, helping them analyse their findings, and then providing them with information and strategies that they can use to lobby government agencies and the media.
Lobbying to Get Commitment.
“The single biggest problem in the campaign to save marine species and habitats is the lack of public commitment to action,” says Professor Vincent, who won a Rolex Award in 1998. “Until the public really cares, we have no chance of influencing policy-makers.”
Project Seahorse has also had considerable success through international lobbying to protect seahorses and their habitats, especially through CITES, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, where Vincent has played a key role. In 2004 seahorses became the first marine fishes to be protected under CITES since 1976.
Vincent explains, “CITES is unusual because it can legally enforce these agreements, through a Review of Significant Trade – that is, by calling on countries to prove they are meeting their obligations to ensure exports of various species are environmentally sustainable.”
Progress with Seahorse Protection
Following lobbying by Project Seahorse, CITES officials have singled out Thailand and Vietnam, and, recently, Senegal and Guinea, requiring them to take action to ensure that their seahorse populations are not being put at risk by exports. But, rather than taking a confrontational approach, Vincent, as Chair of the relevant IUCN group, is helping these countries to find ways to ensure that seahorse exports are sustainable. “Yelling at people or countries doesn’t work,” she adds.
Pragmatic and upbeat, Vincent has moved far beyond the familiar conservationist strategy of pointing out that the number of disappearing species spells disaster. “Things are indeed desperate, but we don’t get far by hammering that. We now have a window of opportunity, partly a combination of new technology and an emerging public awareness of the threat to oceans.”
Blue Ocean Resources:
Image: Courtesy Rolex Awards