Move to stop vast trade in threatened seahorses

shutterstock 258475982 Hippocampus kuda, Thailand

Thailand, by far the largest exporter of seahorses, has announced that is is to suspend all exports of the threatened fish. In recent years millions have been sold - mainly for the Chinese medicine market.

A marine biologist who has worked closely with Thailand on seahorse conservation welcomed the government's decision to suspend the trade.

'It's a way station to getting serious management in place,' said Amanda Vincent of The University of British Columbia and director of Project Seahorse, a marine conservation group whose partner is the Zoological Society of London.

Thai authorities announced the decision at the current meeting of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) in Jonanesburgh. CITES already regulates the trade in seahorses, but Thailand has agreed to impose a unilateral ban on exports and it accounts for 75 per cent of the global trade. CITES figures state that Thailand alone has exported more than five million seahorses since 2004.

Seahorses are mainly used in dried form for traditional medicine in mainland China, Hong Kong and Taiwan. They are also popular as curios, and there is a trade in live seahorses for display in home aquariums, including in Europe and North America.

Following campaigns by Project Seahorse CITES had already banned the seahorse trade from three other big exporters — Vietnam, Senegal and Guinea — after they failed to meet requirements to make the trade sustainable. 

Project Seahorse is to work with the Thai authorities to help make the trade sustainable.

Seven species of seahorses inhabit Thailand’s national waters. Five have been recorded in trade, and four (Hippocampus kelloggi, Hippocampus kuda, Hippocampus spinosissimus,and Hippocampus trimaculatus ) dominate global trade.

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