Dr. Richard Smith has published a recommended code of conduct to be followed when interacting with Pygmy seahorses. Richard’s PhD thesis was about the gorgonian dwelling Denise (Hippocampus denise) and Bargibant pygmy seahorses (Hippocampus bargibanti) so his guidelines are based on hundreds of hours of observing the creatures and also watching the interactions between seahorses and humans. The idea behind the code is that it will be something that can be:
“printed, emailed and talked about as much as possible.”
It is available as a printable, illustrated pdf download from Richard”s website. (Images ©Richard Smith.)
Pygmy Seahorse Code of Conduct.
I spent many hundreds of hours observing natural pygmy seahorse behavior but also the interactions between divers and seahorses. I found that certain actions by divers cause stress to these miniature fish, which can have major implications for their health, reproduction and even survival.
Pygmies also have many other threats such as destruction of their coral reef habitat and their reliance on healthy seafans for their survival. During my population estimate I found that they have one of the lowest population densities of any unexploited seahorse yet studied. Their reliance on seafans means that they can easily be protected within marine protected areas but divers frequent these areas. Thus the aim of this Code of Conduct is to minimize the impact divers have on seahorse populations.
The seafan (gorgonian) home of the seahorses is also hugely susceptible to damage. Seafans are very delicate and slow-growing, with large seafans easily reaching 100 years of age. Sadly, when they come into contact with the equipment, camera or bubbles of divers they can be damaged so much they are no longer inhabitable by seahorses. Seahorses require a healthy, living seafan where they spend their entire adult life on a single seafan, meaning that if the seafan dies so does the seahorses.
Summary of Code of Conduct:
1. Do Not Touch Pygmy Seahorses.
2. Do Not Touch their Gorgonian.
3. Do Not Use a Torch/Flashlight.
4. Five Photo Limit per Diver.
5. No Artificial Light for Video.
6. No Night Diving with Pygmy Seahorses.
7. Beware of the Surrounding Environment.