Save our seahorses
Sometimes, the tiniest members of the marine world are overlooked in favor of manatees, sea turtles and other imperiled species with big personalities.
The dwarf seahorse is one of them.
Picture a seahorse and imagine its baby – that's the size of an adult dwarf seahorse, about 2 centimeters high. Dwarf seahorse babies are so tiny and transparent that they're only readily visible when they blink their eyes.
Once they were common in the seagrass flats of Palma Sola Bay, but you would be hard pressed to find one now, unless you happen to have a Florida souvenir paperweight with one encased in acrylic.
Because of their cute factor, the tiny animals have been dried and sold in key chains, jewelry and other ornaments for years, according to NOAA's National Marine Fisheries Service, which is considering listing them as an imperiled species under the federal Endangered Species Act.
With their different colors, yellow, green, black, beige and spotted – some even grow skin to match their surroundings – they are harvested for aquariums, and they are dried for use in traditional Chinese medicine, according to the petition requesting their addition to the imperiled list.
Besides being collected, the biggest risks to dwarf seahorses include loss of seagrass habitat, bycatch mortality, illegal fishing, invasive species and storms.
One study even shows that boat motor noise can cause them to have fewer offspring.
The monogamous animals depend on the fathers to raise the offspring in their pouches, and they only have three to 16 offspring at a time, unlike larger seahorses, which can have up to 300.
Researchers at Mote Marine say they have seen some dwarf seahorses in the grass flats of Sarasota Bay, nothing that you could call a herd, perhaps, but a few. They also have raised dwarf seahorses for educational institutions in the past, but are raising another, larger seahorse species – the lined seahorse – at the moment.
NOAA Fisheries, which is reviewing the status of the dwarf seahorse, Hippocampus zosterae, for possible designation as threatened or endangered, has so far determined that there is "substantial scientific or commercial information" indicating that the designation is warranted.
The agency is requesting public comment on the possible designation, especially from scientific and commercial sources, by July 3.
You can submit comments, identified by the code NOAA-NMFS-2012-0101, to Calusa Horn, Natural Resource Specialist, by these methods:
• Electronic submissions: via the Federal eRulemaking Portal http://www.regulations.gov;
• Fax: 727-824-5309;
• Mail: NMFS, Southeast Regional Office, 263 13th Ave. S., St. Petersburg, FL 33701.