Rare seahorses spotted by citizen scientist in Philippines

Whitley Award winner, Amanda Vincent’s iSeahorse project records rare seahorses in the Philippines for the first time. Following WFN Continuation Funding, Amanda Vincent has successfully launched iSeahorse, a new citizen science project which allows the public to upload photos and observations of seahorses to a website or mobile app.

Weedy pygmy seahorse (C) Lenny Kim
Weedy pygmy seahorse (C) Lenny Kim

The aim of the initiative is to provide vital information about species ranges and the threats to seahorses, which will help conservationists make informed decisions about seahorse conservation around the world.  And it’s working! Two rare species of seahorse that had never been seen before in Philippine waters were captured on camera by a diver and submitted to the iSeahorse app. The photographs were verified by the Zoological Society of London as the weedy pygmy seahorse (Hippocampus pontohi) and Severn’s pygmy seahorse (Hippocampus severnsi). These new observations have brought the total number of known seahorse species in the Philippines up to eleven.

The pictures were taken near an island called Romblon in the West Philippine Sea. Previously only known to inhabit Indonesian waters, the weedy pygmy seahorse is one of the smallest seahorses with a maximum height of 1.4cm, and was only discovered in 2008. The Severn’s pygmy seahorse is tiny too, with a height of just 1.3cm. Their miniature size means they are less likely to be caught as bycatch; however, overfishing and coastal development pose increasing threats to the coral reefs they inhabit. There is not enough data to assess the conservation status of the two species at this stage but the new range expansion will help iSeahorse develop the most appropriate conservation strategy moving forward.

So far, more than 500 sightings have been submitted to iSeahorse from all over the world. Amanda and the iSeahorse team hope that the news of this recent discovery will encourage the public to keep their eyes open for seahorses when they are out snorkeling or diving and share their sightings to help secure the future of this mysterious animal.