Scientists sound alert over Ria Formosa’s ‘disappearing seahorses’

Ria Formosa’s fragile seahorse population is disappearing, and scientists want to find out why.

They say two particular species found in the estuary are “highly susceptible to disruptive factors”. These include changes to habitat and illegal fishing.

Numbers may also be affected by the large number of boat trips, taking tourists out on the water during the summer .

In August, RTP TV carried a report about seahorse boat trips available in Ria Formosa, and how tourists enjoy seeing them up close.

A nature guide from one of the companies said the main goal is to “educate people”, and warned that seahorses are “very fragile” and should be handled “extremely carefully”.

The warning now is being replicated by scientists from the Algarve’s CCMAR sea science centre.

They are fighting to protect two species found in Ria Formosa (Hippocampus hippocampus and H. guttulatus) cited by the Bern Convention, an international nature conservation agreement.

They have also successfully reproduced the species in captivity – which may be vital if current seahorse numbers continue to shrink.

Seahorses are in fact tiny fish that got their name due to the horse-like shape of their heads.

There are over 50 known species of seahorses.

According to National Geographic, “seahorses are truly unique. And not just because of their unusual equine shape. Unlike most other fish, they are monogamous and mate for life. Rarer still, they are among the only animal species on Earth in which the male bears the unborn young.”

Photo: Hans Hillewaert