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seahorses flash photography Mediterranean marine research seagrass volunteer research divers

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#1 Gaynor

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Posted 19 March 2014 - 08:42 AM

In comparison with a human retina, the seahorse retina receives approximately ten times more illumination when exposed to an identical light source. There is some evidence to suggest that seahorses can be stressed by flash photography.  Given that vision is such an important seahorse sense, involved in feeding, crypsis, and pair-bonding rituals, it is best to adopt the precautionary principle so as not to disrupt these essential behaviours. 
 
Seahorses seem to be becoming increasingly rare in the Mediterranean as their seagrass habitat suffers from degradation by summer pleasure boat anchoring. So this summer I am planning a full population survey in a bay where I have been researching Posidonia oceanica for the past 15 years.
 
The challenge to underwater photographers is this. What is the best way to take photographs of seahorses without using a strobe or even the camera's internal flash? The photographs are for identification purposes as part of a survey. I am not aiming at arty competition winners, but I want to get as much close detail of body form and markings as possible. I hope to be able to distinguish different individuals - not an easy task.
 
The population survey is being carried out by volunteer research divers in a sheltered Mediterranean bay, in 10 meters or less, in sunny conditions. Some will have their own digital cameras of various types.
 
My camera is the Olympus E-PL3 for which I have the standard kit lens plus external wet macro and fish-eye lenses.
 
Can anyone give me any advice, please? 
 
Also, if any underwater photographers would care to join in  this research, please get in touch with me.
 
Thanks
 

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#2 decosnapper

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Posted 19 March 2014 - 09:09 AM

 

 There is some evidence to suggest that seahorses can be stressed by flash photography.  

 

 

I have been waiting for some substantive research into this for a long time. Can you share the source of the evidence?


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#3 Gaynor

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Posted 19 March 2014 - 09:27 AM

Follow the link at seahorse sense. There's a reference at the bottom of the second article - MMO (2014) report.


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#4 Alex_Mustard

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Posted 19 March 2014 - 10:02 AM

If they dislike the light, why are they so shallow. 

 

The MMO report is not peer reviewed and, while I have not seen it, probably does not contain any data, merely opinion. That an organisation like the MMO is making decisions not based on proper science is alarming and embarrassing for us Brits.

 

There is one proper scientific study on seahorse photography that is based on scientific data and has been through the peer-review process and therefore, for now, should be the one that all decisions should be based on. Here is an interview with the author:

http://newsroom.uts....ly-in-the-frame

 

My horoscope did say that it was a bad month for photographing seahorses (not that I had plans to). I hope the MMO don't read that or it will be in their next report.

 

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#5 Alex_Mustard

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Posted 19 March 2014 - 10:12 AM

MMO 2014 is online and indeed does not contain any data. No graphs, no tables. Just conjecture and moaning about the one scientific study that has been done. 

 

Also the report states that it does not necessarily reflect the views of the MMO. No author names. No data. Pseudoscience.

 

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#6 Interceptor121

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Posted 19 March 2014 - 11:28 AM

I have been fortunate to meet a number of seahorse of all variety during my trips to Raja Ambat, Bunaken and Lembeh to the point I was able to spot myself even tiny pontoh and denise or severn and I spent quite some time looking at those guys hanging out

I sometimes take pictures but most times video and I can tell you that from what I have expeienced seahorse are not bothered at all by strobes, as you shoot at close distance the strobe duration is really really short they don't even seem to see it

They seem to be bothered much more about constant video light, in fact I dim my lights to the minimum and try to spend as little time as possible and get just a few second of footage, even with 300 lumens and a red filter they do eventually start going off or at least turning their face

So if there is a worry I would say is actually the focus light of a photographer waiting for the right shot that is an annoyance and not the strobe

at one foot distance a 300 lumens focus light produces nearly 4000 lux which is an intensity that is used in micro mechanics for prolonged period of time

I would recommend to anyone taking picture of seahorses waiting for the right shot to ensure their focus light is set at the minimum power required this is also useful so that they look at your as opposed to turn their back...


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#7 Gaynor

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Posted 19 March 2014 - 12:57 PM

Thanks for the comments and the link, Alex, and for the practical advice, Manta Ray.

 

Using flash is a contentious issue. Our European seahorses are thought to be diurnal and like plenty of ambient light. Because their eyesight is so important, as described above, I wouldn't want to risk blinding one, even temporarily, or cause it stress. I would rather err on the side of caution rather than risk causing harm to creatures that I am trying to protect, but I do want to get a decent record of the ones that we find. 

 

During my last encounter I got some semi decent shots, without flash, with my old Canon digi.


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#8 Interceptor121

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Posted 19 March 2014 - 01:10 PM

Thanks for the comments and the link, Alex, and for the practical advice, Manta Ray.

 

Using flash is a contentious issue. Our European seahorses are thought to be diurnal and like plenty of ambient light. Because their eyesight is so important, as described above, I wouldn't want to risk blinding one, even temporarily, or cause it stress. I would rather err on the side of caution rather than risk causing harm to creatures that I am trying to protect, but I do want to get a decent record of the ones that we find. 

 

During my last encounter I got some semi decent shots, without flash, with my old Canon digi.

Almost all seahorses are diurnal. And most of them don't have eyelids like many fish in the sea. You can take a decent picture of a quite large seahorse but definitely you can't take a picture of a pygmy seahorse without a strobe as the subject is so small you need fast shutter speeds so that you don't have blur, and you need small apertures as they are tiny and you lack depth of field in summary you need a strobe and as discussed here there is no demonstration or data to proof that they mind a strobe, from what I have seen they are not bothered at all by the flash (as it goes really fast) but they seem not to like video lights too much, still I can guarantee you that they were not blinded by the lights

If you look at this video (it is a bit shaky the fans were on walls and I had nothing to hang on to) you can see that the pontohi and the severn (not satomi I was misinformed by the dive guide and had not idea at the time) sea horse are happily swimming from one part or the other of the fan and they are definitely not going blind

http://youtu.be/vyegzx70EcU?t=1m40s

 

So I would say you are worrying without much foundation at this stage. I would be more concerned of people handing the seahorses that in the Mediterranean is unfortunately a widespread practice and surely that does not do any good to the fish and induces a superior level of stress than a few strobe shots the fish can't even see


Edited by Interceptor121, 19 March 2014 - 01:11 PM.

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#9 Gaynor

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Posted 19 March 2014 - 01:20 PM

Yes, they look happy enough in your video. Thanks for sharing!


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#10 Interceptor121

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Posted 19 March 2014 - 01:21 PM

No problem am glad I could address your concerns


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#11 decosnapper

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Posted 19 March 2014 - 11:02 PM

MMO 2014 is online and indeed does not contain any data. No graphs, no tables. Just conjecture and moaning about the one scientific study that has been done. 

 

Also the report states that it does not necessarily reflect the views of the MMO. No author names. No data. Pseudoscience.

 

 

 

 

The MMO report is not peer reviewed and, while I have not seen it, probably does not contain any data, merely opinion. That an organisation like the MMO is making decisions not based on proper science is alarming and embarrassing for us Brits...

My horoscope did say that it was a bad month for photographing seahorses (not that I had plans to). I hope the MMO don't read that or it will be in their next report.

 

 

 

Like the Dr says...based on their acceptance of junk data I thought I might offer the MMO some magic beans in exchange for the family cow, whilst promising access to the golden goose.

 

But I am not sure the horoscope approach is correct...I consult a personal soothsayer...

 

Good luck with the survey. If you can shoot acceptable images with no flash and have concerns with flash then it sounds like you are doing the right thing.


Edited by decosnapper, 19 March 2014 - 11:03 PM.

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#12 bvanant

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Posted 20 March 2014 - 04:26 PM

My understanding  is that most fish (http://www.sciencedi...144835030037860) including seahorses can actually regenerate retinal tissue and in fact are continuously refreshing their retinal tissue. While rods and cones have different threshold sensitivities to photobleaching, a strobe flash might temporarily (half life of the photo bleaching pigment) lead to poor vision, no permanent damage should occur.

 

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#13 davephdv

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Posted 20 March 2014 - 07:35 PM

As an eye doctor I've taken graduate level courses in physiologic optics.

Nocturnal species are very sensitive to light, diurnal mostly not.

What are Sea horses primarily?

All species regenerate their retinas, that's how you see.
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#14 Gaynor

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Posted 21 March 2014 - 06:15 AM

As I understand it, the problem is not just the risk of causing damage to the retina but the shock and stress caused by the flashes can weaken the immune system, allowing dormant pathogens to overcome the animal's defenses.

 

This is what the Seahorse Trust has to say on this issue. It's long but worth reading if you care about seahorse welfare:

 

Dear all,

 

Gaynor kindly forwarded me the comments on wet pixel and if you don’t mind I would like to reply about flash photography and seahorses and the myths and nonsense surrounding this issue.

 

Firstly my background; I have spent the last 33 years studying seahorses in the wild and in captivity and have worked with 22 species, set up seahorse surveys around the world (at least one of you has dived on one of my surveys). I have and I am an advisor to 7 governments (including the UK), many universities and hundreds of organisations around the world on seahorse ecology, surveys and behaviour. (I was also an assistant cameraman on Life on Earth and Living Planet with the NHU for 2 years).

 

I am an HSE diver with over 3,000 dives to my name, the majority of which have been spent with seahorses, including over a thousand hours in Studland Bay, which was home to one of the largest groups of Spiny Seahorses (Hippocampus guttulatus) in Europe. Sadly no more, numbers have dropped from 40 in the second half of 2008 to 4 in 2013, mainly due to mooring and anchoring damage but in a very small way to a tiny handful of divers who have insisted on using flash when taking seahorse pictures.

 

It was The Seahorse Trust who I am the Executive Director and Founder of that got flash photography banned by MMO under the European Precautionary principle; this is enshrined in European law and is used when there is scientific doubt (because little research has been done on the subject) but where objective evaluation shows that an action can harm a species or habitat. The ban was put into place to protect the health and welfare of seahorses based on objective evaluation (and was fully peer reviewed by a panel at the time), if this means a few divers cannot take the ultimate shot of a seahorse then this is a small cost to preserve a species that is already under so much pressure in the world.

 

Throughout the world flash photography is banned in public aquaria because it is known from decades of experience that the stress caused by flash allows dormant diseases in the seahorse body to take a hold and it will kill the seahorses. Although the intensity of the light in flash, lights and strobes is not the thing that kills the seahorses, it is the effect of those lights that does. Seahorses naturally carry vibrio, TB and a wide variety of other diseases in their bodies, which under normal conditions do them not harm. BUT when they become stressed then they become weakened, usually because they become free swimming and don’t feed (a happy seahorses is a seahorse that will sit completely still when you approach. This weakened state means the dormant diseases will ultimately kill the seahorses, a week or few weeks later (this never seen by the diver cameraman).

 

Seahorses see in incredibly low light levels, even those in shallow waters, they are designed like this so they can predate on food in the darkest of situations and from experience there is not really a truly diurnal seahorse, most of them will be active even in darkened conditions because of the amazing adaption of their eyes.

When divers take pictures with flash, it is very intense in close quarters and often repeated many times by each diver in the group (I have counted up to 100 pictures in a group over a few minutes). This puts the seahorses under intense stress and ultimately will lead to the death of that animal, because it has not keeled over in front of you does not mean it will not die later or with the week or month, as explained above.

 

The Australian paper, that is often quoted has been dismissed by the authorities as very poor science (its findings were independently reviewed by a number of external (to MMO) examiners, that found it wanting in so many ways) but putting that aside if you read the findings in that paper indepth with an objective mind you will see that the small (24 animals) study group disappeared very quickly with no reasons given.

 

The MMO flash ban was challenged by divers who like to sell pictures, in my personal opinion they do not have the welfare of the animal at heart just the wish to take a picture they can sell. Some of this group of divers also know the author of the Australian paper who quickly wrote this very poor piece of science to try and get the MMO ban overturned. In response the MMO commissioned the review shown on their website and as predicted it showed little in the way of scientific papers to support the flash hypothesis (although accepted knowledge and expertise in the seahorse world accepts the facts based on objective evaluation). MMO’s response has to do a partial lifting of the ban, in that it is now a licensable activity to use flash, lights or strobe with seahorses. To get one of these licenses (all my work is licensed by MMO) you have to prove there is no other way to do your research or education other than by using a license, this is going to be very strictly governed and unless it is proven beyond doubt that there is no other way, then the applicant will not be granted a license. Even if they were granted a license then there will be many conditions attached to the license to ensure the welfare and safety of the seahorses. Having spent so much time studying seahorses, I cannot see a situation ever where it would be necessary to grant a flash license

 

On wet pixel some interesting views have been put forward and I hope I have answered some of them but if you would indulge me on Interceptor121’s video of Pygmy seahorses (please do not take this as a personal swipe Interceptor121, it is not, it is intended to illustrate a point). I see that video very differently based on long term indepth knowledge of the species. Although the breathing rate of Pygmy seahorses in faster than other seahorses , in my professional opinion the video clearly shows some very stressed animals, mainly because of the accelerated breathing rates but also because of the erratic body movements. Pygmy seahorses should not be breathing that fast.

 

One other point and that is shame on the diver who was holding themselves in place on a coral reef with a rod to take a picture, this is resoundly frowned upon around the world and is bad practise.

 

I hope you will understand why we got the flash ban put into place; it is fully for the welfare of the animals, so that long term we have seahorses in the wild for divers to see, if things carry on like they are this might not be the case.

 

Neil Garrick-Maidment FBNA

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#15 Interceptor121

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Posted 21 March 2014 - 06:50 AM

Neil

I think if you were trying directly or indirectly to make a point here to stop people taking strobe pictures of seahorses it is not working

First I do not have 33 years experience of working with sea horses but I know by having done a few dives that any fish gets under stress when approached by a diver or anything that does not get fooled by the camouflage and is 1000 times bigger. I would

 

Now you could cause the same amount of distress to that fish without taking a flash photo, in fact just by being negligent of the territory of the animal.

 

If those seahorses were in distress was not because of the light but because of the presence of humans as described above and I don't get the point of starting with the story of blinding the seahorse that looks rather untrue as the animals don't seem to go blind at all when they move around?

 

So maybe we should look more in details to some diving practices or maybe ban diving all together this of course together with banning any type of fishing or exploitation of the sea

 

I am quite sure that the seahorses that disappeared in the Mediterranean didn't die of some virus cause by flash photos but were rather taken away to be sold. 

 

I find it sad that efforts are made against people that actually love the oceans whilst other just predate the environment and get away with it


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#16 decosnapper

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Posted 21 March 2014 - 11:27 PM

Before I add anything, I would just like to say that I have no vested interest - either way - over this issue. Last time I used a macro lens underwater around the UK was in 2011. I have not bothered to get a macro port for the new camera housing, so that situation is very unlikely to change. 

 

To flash, or not, would appear to be a very emotive subject and I dearly wish someone would conduct research and give some sensible guidance.

 

I do suspect that more damage is done by loss of habitat thanks to boat mooring than underwater photographers could manage in any given season. Perhaps the real focus for change of attitudes might just be better spent educating those who drop anchor?  The effort expended in reducing the risk of damage by flash guns would appear on the face of it to be disproportionate when there are far bigger issues at hand. So whilst flash may be harmful, the biggest risk is receiving less attention as a result. I should add that perhaps the mooring issue in Studland Bay is solved and all is good...and on that basis it may be prudent to look for the next issue.

 

As an outsider with no vested interest, even I would dearly love to know if flash is detrimental. My naturally curios and questioning nature means accepting opinion is going to be challenging for me and I am sure I am not alone. Clearly the MMO would be an ideal candiate to fund research? But only after they have solved the matter of habitat loss first perhaps?


Edited by decosnapper, 21 March 2014 - 11:27 PM.

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#17 Neil Garrick-Maidment

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Posted 22 March 2014 - 12:42 AM

HI Manta Ray. I totally agree with you, I also wish MMO would fund research, under the Precautionary Principle they are legally obliged to do so and our solicitors and advisors and Natural England are pushing them to do just that.

Sadly Studland has not been solved and it is ongoing but we are making great strides. the RYA and BORG have finally acknowledged that anchors and moorings cause damage to seagrass and because of this they have produced an educational leaflet; we also have another stakeholders group meeting (which they sit on) to discuss that Studland has been put forward again as a proposed Marine Conservation Zone and there should be trials of Environmentally Friendly Moorings (EFM's) starting this year and we are entering our 6th formal year of study down there. So although we are a long way of solving Studland, a great deal of progress has been made.

 

I will nail my colours to the mast here right from the start, my only concern is the welfare of the seahorse species and making sure they are there for the future, at present, especially at South Beach In Studland  this is looking less likely.

 

Can I respond to Interceptor 121.

I do agree the presence of divers could cause some stress but with correct diving practises and experience this would be kept to the absolute minimum.

You say you do not have 33 years experience with seahorses (or little I am presuming, please correct me if I am wrong), so please can you tell how you know that strobe, flash or lights do not harm seahorses? Could you please show me the evidence of your own original research that proves it does not. I put forward my case based on experience as to why I think it does, please explain why you do not think it does.

With regard to the comments on Mediterranean seahorses, there has been extensive research to show why the seahorses are disappearing in large numbers and it has nothing at all to do with collection for being sold (which is absolutely minimal in the Med), it is due to pollution, loss of habitat and other factors. If you would like I can quote you endless research and researchers in this field.

We do agree totally on the predation of our oceans so do you not agree that if an action that is known to harm seahorses (or lets say for arguments sake, assumed) should be stopped, until further evidence is produced?? I know with my hand on my heart lights, strobe and flash kills seahorses, in the way I described, I am trying to do something about it. You are obviously passionate about the ocean why do you not support the ban until research shows the evidence fully one way or another? The Precautionary Principle is for just this situations and in this case it should be used, if you want to read the PP in full you can find it on the Internet


Edited by Neil Garrick-Maidment, 22 March 2014 - 12:45 AM.


#18 Stuart Keasley

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Posted 22 March 2014 - 01:06 AM

The MMO flash ban was challenged by divers who like to sell pictures, in my personal opinion they do not have the welfare of the animal at heart just the wish to take a picture they can sell. Some of this group of divers also know the author of the Australian paper who quickly wrote this very poor piece of science to try and get the MMO ban overturned. In response the MMO commissioned the review shown on their website and as predicted it showed little in the way of scientific papers to support the flash hypothesis (although accepted knowledge and expertise in the seahorse world accepts the facts based on objective evaluation). MMO’s response has to do a partial lifting of the ban, in that it is now a licensable activity to use flash, lights or strobe with seahorses. To get one of these licenses (all my work is licensed by MMO) you have to prove there is no other way to do your research or education other than by using a license, this is going to be very strictly governed and unless it is proven beyond doubt that there is no other way, then the applicant will not be granted a license. Even if they were granted a license then there will be many conditions attached to the license to ensure the welfare and safety of the seahorses. Having spent so much time studying seahorses, I cannot see a situation ever where it would be necessary to grant a flash license
 

I'm not sure that implying that anyone who dares to oppose your opinion or the ban is being either driven by commercial interest and/or friends/associates of the author of the paper is the best way to garner support.

The vast majority of underwater photographers and videographers I know and have come into contact with have a very high regard for the marine environment, placing the welfare of the critters way above the need/desire to get the image.

If people are voicing objections it's because what is being said doesn't make sense, based on their own experiences and/or knowledge.
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#19 Neil Garrick-Maidment

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Posted 22 March 2014 - 02:19 AM

Hi Moray Eel, your point is taken but I am privy to behind the scenes information so I can make such statements but as I said your point is well made and accepted as such, thank you

 

I have been looking back through some of the discussions about his subject on wet pixel and I came across an interesting discussion in which the vast majority of divers mention the harassment of seahorses when taking pictures. It is under the thread Is photographing seahorses with strobes bad for them, makes for interesting reading

 

Interestingly if you look at the MMO page called Apply for a wildlife license there is on the right hand side a paper called Marine Licensing Guidance 5, in which it clearly says that to do any photography with seahorses in English waters you require a license, this is with or without lights of any sort. Whenever MMO make a decision it is based on advice from (mainly) Natural England who go out and get the latest knowledge and expertise on the subject, so it is in effect peer reviewed. They make many decisions that I don't agree with but as it goes through this process I accept it.

 

As I have said before my only concern is that we have seahorses for the future and I know from working with them for 33 years that lights in all forms kills them for the reasons I have stated. I am 100% certain that 99% of divers are passionate about the seas (I am one of them and old enough o have seen the diving world change from solely flatty bashers to environmentalists ) and if they think a situation is harming it and its inhabitants then they are prepared to do something about it. You only have to look at the passion about sharks, rays, coral reefs etc. to see this, so all I ask is that the diving community help to keep this flash ban in place until research falls one way or another, if for no other reason than to keep seeing seahorses in the wild for the long term. It is a small thing to ask and based on knowledge of the species.



#20 Interceptor121

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Posted 22 March 2014 - 03:14 AM

You said it yourself. The main reason is environmental and lack of habitat. I would not underestimate people that take fish for selling that is far more lucrative than selling a picture. Diving practices also help and all the guides in places where you can find those critters should be a bit more respectful and know when to call it a day. On the other hand I don't see any research in your side where even in captivity you have has populations of seahorse with and without strobes and see who goes further? Or am I missing that somehow? Without that it's quite hard to justify anything. Seems like photographers are an easy targets and corporations that have lawyers and lobby politicians are not and you are going for the easy targets as opposed of looking at the big picture. Frankly if you count the number of strobes fired to sea horses they are very little. Most divers that I know have actually never seen one of any size so how much is the relative importance?
To give you an example turtles are frequently harassed by humans that are ignorant a and don't understand the level of stress they induce in an animal that is usually old and has a weak heart. What you need is educating as people are really not helped by media and don't know. In the specific of sea horses you should not only stop the strobes but any type of poking handling (a lot if that goes on in the Mediterranean) or any intrusive dive practices. Out of 10 divers globally maybe 1-2 dive with a camera the rest don't and they can still do harm. Maybe some guidelines of how to behave with such critters would be far more helpful than a ban without scientific proof

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