The misery of seahorses

On a planet where humans kill millions of their own kind, Damocles’ sword always lies hanging over the heads of animals. That’s a given when animals face the deadliest threat everyday – us.

Things sadly become worse for one of the most fascinating creatures on this planet – the seahorse. One instant it tries hard to live through another day of a plastic-filled nightmare, and the next instant, swoosh! It gets mired in the mesh of a fishing net and that’s the end of its story.

Seahorses in the side-lines

Catching or trading of seahorses is prohibited under the Wildlife Protection Act of 1972. While this has reduced their direct fishing, the number of seahorses being caught as by-catch has increased alarmingly. Between 2015 and 2017 alone, around 13 million seahorses were caught as by-catch in India’s coasts, with Tamil Nadu catching the most.

Areas of southern India where seahorses are found (Image Source)

Why are seahorses being caught as by-catch?

Contemporary fishing techniques involve the use of highly sophisticated gears which not only catch the required kinds of fish, but also those not needed. Usage of nets with mesh sizes smaller than 10mm, trawling near the shore, usage of destructive fishing equipment, etc. – unlawful activities like these are responsible for the dropping seahorse numbers.

Image Source

What happens to the seahorses caught as by-catch?

On the one hand, banning the fishing of seahorses has been advantageous in India to a certain extent. On the other hand however, this has induced several fishermen to sell them in markets for handsome profits. Many a times, these creatures are taken back home and stored in aquariums, where they are deprived of their natural habitats and eventually succumb to starvation or disease. Unregulated trade of these marine horses has also emerged as a concern-causing threat in recent times.

Image Source

Do we need to protect seahorses?

Seahorses ostensibly seem insignificant members of the environment, but in truth, hold a very pivotal place. These unique creatures are vital components of the ecosystems where they are found. Not only do they predate on creatures found in the lower oceanic levels, they also serve as food for several other animals. Thus, reducing their numbers would be equivalent to amputating a significant part of the environment adversely.

Increasing by-catch of seahorses is a wakeup call for taking further steps towards marine conservation. The case of the horses of oceans shows that legal protection has been helpful on paper, but more needs to be done to implement their protection in practice.

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