July 5, 2019 5:20 pm
Updated: July 7, 2019 12:04 am

‘Project Seahorse’ conservation versus the black market

WATCH: Seahorses call Canada's eastern coastal waters home, but the enigmatic animal is under threat. As Morganne Campbell reports, one Canadian scientist hopes to rein in a practice that could eliminate them for our waters for good.

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They’re one of the ocean’s most mystical and magical creatures, loved by children and studied by researchers, but seahorses are on the brink of extinction, according to one Vancouver biologist who has dedicated her life to protecting the fish.

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“We risk knocking out their ecological function that holds our world together,” explains Amanda Vincent, a professor and creator of Project Seahorse at the Institute for Oceans and Fisheries. “We risk knocking out eventually the species, even if a few little individuals persist in some pockets of the world, that is not how we should be curating and showing good stewardship of our planet.

“We have to stop this decline way before we reach extinction.”

READ MORE: UBC study helps protect seahorses

Vincent was integral in creating the 2002 landmark legislation that regulates the export of seahorses in 182 countries. Some of the 44 different seahorse species are endangered and protected under the Convention on International Trade.

Seahorses are often plucked from their natural habitat through bottom trawling and sold.  

“They don’t fare well in a home aquarium and they there are alternative forms of medicine. And realistically, you don’t need a dead fish hanging from your keychain either,” adds Vincent.

Dried seahorse is one ingredient in traditional Chinese medicine to treat health issues ranging from asthma to impotence and thyroid disorders.

Buying seahorse is legal as long as it comes from a country without an export ban, but it’s definitely not easy to find — and has a hefty price tag. A dose runs 1-3 grams and costs roughly $2,000 a kilogram.

The Ontario College of Traditional Medicine doesn’t support the use of seahorse as there is no standard herbal prescription that includes it. But in an email to Global News, director Dylan Kirk explained that its historic use is to “invigorate the yang energy of the kidney to treat impotence.”

“As Chinese Medicine becomes increasingly popular around the world, it is ever more important that practitioners are aware of the environmental impacts of the products they use or dispense,” writes Kirk.

Vincent hones in on the need to balance conservation and food security. With eight out of 10 provinces and three territories on the ocean, she says it needs to be a top priority as she lobbies for tougher laws and penalties for those violating trade and export bans.

WATCH: Two tonnes of fishing nets removed from Greek seabed near rare colony of seahorses

“To lose seahorses would, I think, be a very sad comment about the value we place on ocean life, because what could be more mystical and magical than these extraordinary fish?” explains Vicent.

In August, a delegation from Canada will be travelling to Geneva to discuss the illegal trade of marine fishes. The delegation includes stakeholders from countries across the globe.

© 2019 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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