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Pregnant spiny seahorse
Seahorse baby boom
Dorset is experiencing a baby boom - of seahorses. Dorset Wildlife Trust has recorded repeated sightings of pregnant seahorses at Studland. Without better protection though the trust fears the boom might be short-lived.
Pregnant males of both types of seahorse found in British waters - the spiny and short snouted varieties have been spotted recently in Studland Bay. There have also been sightings of all six varieties of pipefish, a close relative of the seahorse.
They live happily because of large areas of eel grass which grow in the shallows of the bay. The females deposit their eggs in the male's pouch for fertilisation. The male then carries the young for two to four weeks.
Their happiness and attempts to increase their population size could be short-lived because Studland Bay is one of Dorset's most popular areas for boating. Boat anchors are dredging up the eelgrass, destroying the habitats upon which the seahorses depend.
Dorset Wildlife Trust's Marine Conservation Officer Peter Tinsley said, "This is probably the best site in the UK for seahorses and pipefish but there is a threat to the eelgrass meadows from the many boats that anchor there."
At the moment the water at Studland has little protection but that could change if plans to introduce a network of marine conservation zones around the British coast under the Marine Bill, are approved by Parliament.
Peter said, "Until Studland Bay can be designated as a marine conservation zone, we are appealing to boat owners not to anchor in the eelgrass."
Seahorses themselves are now enjoying more protection than ever before. As of April 2008, the Wildlife and Countryside Act changed. It became an offence to intentionally kill, injure, posses or sell seahorses. Seahorses had been captured for use in traditional Chinese medicine and for the aquarium trade.
Anecdotal evidence from divers in the last 10-15 years suggests that it's not just at Studland where seahorses are thriving. There have been sightings at Kimmeridge and Weymouth.
Seahorses, which are related to the stickleback, have also been reported all along the Jurassic Coast, but usually when they're washed-up dead on the shore.
One lucky seahorse which was washed-up, landed on the deck of a fishing boat at Church Ope Cove on Portland in February 2008 and survived the experience. The female short-snouted seahorse was nursed back to health by staff at the Purbeck Marine Reserve Study Centre at Kimmeridge.
Rather than return her to the sea where she may not survive she was taken to be part of a captive breeding programme run by the Seahorse Trust in Devon.
Seahorses pair for life in monogamous relationships and without a mate, return to the wild could have hampered her chances of survival.
While the seahorses tend to their young in the eelgrass beds below the water surface, the chances are boat owners mooring their vessels in the beds have no idea of the damage they could be causing.
Peter Tinsley has this advice, "When the water is clear, it is usually very easy to see any vegetation, so please try to stick to areas of clear sand only."
last updated: 16/09/2008 at 15:44