Seahorses

I was listening with rapt attention to CBC radio’s “The Early Edition,” a program that originates in British Columbia. The host was interviewing Dr. Amanda Vincent, a marine biologist at the University of British Columbia (UBC), who was just proclaimed winner of the prestigious Indianapolis Prize for her work in protecting seahorses.

Apparently what prompted Dr. Vincent’s early interest in seahorses is the fact that it is the male seahorse that becomes pregnant and gives birth. Here we are having just celebrated Mother’s Day, and now comes this bit of good news for mothers everywhere that a male has finally stepped up.

From that beginning, Dr. Vincent, a professor at the Institute for the Oceans and Fisheries at UBC, has become a leading authority on seahorses, having studied them in 38 countries. She directs Project Seahorse, and through her efforts, conservation initiatives have been taken to protect seahorses from illegal trade.

According to the CBC report, in 2002, Dr. Vincent helped to persuade the United Nations Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species to adopt milestone legislation to limit global seahorse trade to sustainable and legal exports. And in 2018, in a media release from UBC, it was announced that countries that previously exported 96 per cent of dried seahorses have suspended trade in the animals.

For these and other conservation initiatives, Dr. Vincent was awarded the Indianapolis Prize for 2020. The Prize is awarded every two years by the Indianapolis Zoo and its $250,000 cash award is underwritten by The Eli Lilly Foundation. In a selection process conducted by internationally known conservationists, there is a review of the achievements of six conservation scientists prior to naming the Prize recipient. Dr. Vincent joins impressive company, including Dr. Patricia Wright, who won the Prize in 2014 for her work in protecting the lemurs of Madagascar.

Dr. Vincent above. When asked how she would use her winnings, she responded, “I’m going to treat a lot of people who have made a difference and contributed and supported our conservation work over the years.” And she said she would buy an electric bike.

In any other award year, the Prize would be given at a gala (which sounds like a real party) in Indianapolis. That will have to wait. But congratulations to Dr. Vincent!

And what of seahorses? They are fish, and vary in size from about a half inch to more than a foot in length. Seahorses swim vertically, and are adept at camouflage – helping to protect them from predators, as seahorses are rather poor swimmers. The female deposits her eggs (1,000 or more) in the male’s pouch, with gestation spanning 10 to 45 days. The offspring are quite small.

These stunning creatures are at risk, as too often they are swept up as by-catch, especially by ocean trawlers that pick up any type of marine life while targeting only a few. Millions of seahorses are lost each year as by-catch, but are also captured for souvenirs, for personal aquariums, or to be dried for use as traditional medicines.