Smallest seahorse in US waters might get endangered protection.
On May 3, the National Marine Fisheries Service announced that the dwarf seahorse may warrant protection under the Endangered Species Act. The one-inch-long seahorse, found in seagrass beds in the Gulf of Mexico, Florida and the Caribbean, is threatened with extinction due to decline of seagrass, commercial collection and lingering pollution from the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Today's announcement kicks off a one-year review of its status to determine if federal protection will be granted.
"We are elated the dwarf seahorse is moving toward the Endangered Species Act protection that can save it," said Tierra Curry, a conservation biologist at the Center for Biological Diversity. "These amazing creatures -- the tiniest of any American seahorse -- need a helping hand to survive. And saving their seagrass beds will help other animals too."
Since 1950, Florida has lost more than half its seagrasses, with loss in some areas exceeding 90 percent. Seagrass loss has also been dramatic in Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Texas and the Bahamas. Because the dwarf seahorse is a habitat specialist, loss of seagrass equates directly to population declines. The BP oil spill contaminated much of the species' remaining range; oil pollution and dispersants used to break up oil are toxic both to seahorses and to seagrasses.
"Oil spills like the one two years ago in the Gulf of Mexico exact a terrible toll on marine life, especially species like the dwarf seahorse that were already struggling to survive," Curry said. "These inevitable, catastrophic spills will be a threat as long as we persist with destructive, dangerous offshore drilling."
Seahorses are unique in that the males become pregnant and give birth to miniature versions of the adults. Seahorses form monogamous pair bonds, and partners meet each morning to perform a greeting ritual. Males wrestle with each other for access to mates, but once a pair has bonded, seahorse couples ignore other seahorses.
The dwarf seahorse, which lives for only one year, is the smallest of the four seahorse species found in the United States and the third-smallest seahorse in the world. In addition to oil pollution, the seahorse's seagrass habitat is threatened by declining water quality, damage from boat propellers and shrimp trawlers, and ocean acidification from global climate change.
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