UBC Reports | Vol. 48 | No. 12 | Oct.
Saving the Seahorse by Saving the Seas
UBC prof starts first seahorse conservation program
By Hilary Thomson
Males get pregnant. Couples dance daily after dawn. A tail
holds your hand.
Welcome to the curious world of the seahorse and the fascination
of Prof. Amanda Vincent.
The new Canada Research Chair in Marine Conservation, Vincent
has recently arrived at UBC from McGill University. She calls
the seahorse a charismatic rallying point for advocacy and
These curly-tailed little beasts act as a flagship
for marine conservation issues, she says. To save
the seahorse, we must save the seas.
Vincent is the first biologist to have studied seahorses
underwater, the first to document their trade and the first
to start a seahorse conservation program.
At UBC she will work at the Aquatic Ecosystems Research Laboratory.
Now in the design phase, the unit will be located on Main
Mall and will include the Fisheries Centre that Vincent describes
as world-class and a big part of her decision
to come to UBC. She also looks forward to the interdisciplinary
possibilities offered by the Faculty of Graduate Studies.
The co-founder and director of an international group called
Project Seahorse, Vincent leads a team of 35 biologists, social
workers and other professionals -- as well as Filipino villagers
and scholars -- working in eight countries promoting marine
Eight team members moved with her from McGill and three more
students will commute regularly to UBC.
Their research has five major themes: biological research;
managing marine populations and fisheries; monitoring and
adjusting consumption of marine life; developing conservation
policy; and educating and promoting awareness of the need
Thanks to Vincents efforts, 160 countries will vote
in November on an international proposal to manage seahorse
trade. Countries trading in seahorses include Canada and the
U.S. with the largest exporters being India, Philippines,
Thailand and Vietnam. Vincent and her team work with both
fishers and consumers to establish sustainable use of the
Found in tropical and temperate waters -- as far north as
Baja-California on the west coast -- seahorse numbers are
declining rapidly due to habitat loss, accidental capture
in non-selective fishing gear and sales for traditional medicines,
aquariums and curios.
There are about 300 species in the seahorse family, including
sea dragons, pipefishes and pipe horses. Ranging in size from
less than an inch to a foot in length, they have the ability
to change colour to camouflage themselves. In addition, a
prehensile tail allows them to grip and anchor themselves
to seaweed and underwater plants to hide from predators. They
feed on live food such as brine shrimp, which they suck through
And most intriguing from a human perspective, only the male
Pairs of most seahorse species are monogamous and reinforce
their bond with elaborate early morning greeting dances involving
colour changes, promenades and pirouettes. Eggs are fertilized
in the males brood pouch. He provides oxygen and nutrition
throughout the 10-40 day-pregnancy before going into labour.
One of Vincents favourite seahorses is James, a Caribbean
seahorse that she studied while at Cambridge. James took the
record for reproduction when he gave birth to 1,572 babies
from a pouch about half a teaspoon in size.
This is the Year of the Water Horse, according to the Chinese
lunar calendar, and Vincent hopes to co-operate with Vancouvers
Chinese-Canadian community to advance marine conservation.
Traditional Chinese medicine accounts for the largest consumption
Canada could show more leadership in marine conservation,
Vincent says. In issues such as ecologically sensitive aquaculture,
sustainable fisheries and the establishment of marine protected
areas, this countrys track record is poor.
Marine conservation is everyones responsibility,
she says. Oceans are in crisis and we need to engage
urgently on nearly every issue.
Designed to build Canadas research capacity, the federal
government will invest $900 million to support the establishment
of 2,000 Canada Research Chair positions at Canadian universities
by 2005. UBC now has 58 faculty members designated as chairs
from a total allocation of 156 positions.