Marine conservationists have launched a smartphone app in the hope of discovering new information about some of the ocean’s most mysterious and threatened animals — seahorses — and paving the way for similar efforts with other difficult-to-study species.

With iSeahorse Explore, anyone can contribute to marine conservation with a few taps of their phone. The iPhone app is designed for people to quickly log seahorse sightings whenever they encounter an animal in the wild.

The app is a result of a collaboration between the University of British Columbia, Zoological Society of London (ZSL) and John G. Shedd Aquarium, Chicago.

“We’ve made important scientific breakthroughs with seahorses in recent years, but they remain incredibly enigmatic animals,” says Amanda Vincent, director of Project Seahorse.

Thanks to their small size and ability to blend into their surroundings, seahorses are difficult to study in the wild. Of the 48 seahorse species listed on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, 26 are considered ‘Data Deficient’—meaning that there isn’t enough information for us to know whether these species are thriving, disappearing, or something in between.

“We know that seahorses are threatened by overfishing, destructive fishing practices, and habitat loss. Now we need to pinpoint populations and places that most need conservation action,” says Heather Koldewey, co-founder of Project Seahorse and Head of Global Conservation Programmes at ZSL.The app and its feature-rich companion website, http://www.iSeahorse.org, represent a pilot collaboration with iNaturalist.org, a leading “citizen science” group.

Approximately 13 million seahorses are traded globally, live and dead, every year around the world. They are used in traditional Chinese medicine, for display in aquariums and as curios and souvenirs.

Male brooding means that young depend on parental survival for far longer than in most fish. Many species mate for life so widowed animals don’t reproduce until they have found a new partner. Their low population density and low mobility means that this can take some time. Habitat degradation is also a real threat to populations as they mainly inhabit shallow, coastal areas, which are highly influenced by human activities.

Where seahorses are monogamous, their pair-bonds are reinforced by daily greetings, during which the female and male change colour and promenade and pirouette together. The dance lasts several minutes, and then the pair separates for the rest of the day.

Seahorses range in size from the tiny Hippocampus denise which is just 16 mm, to the 35 cm (1 foot) Pacific seahorse. Seahorses are opportunistic predators, sitting and waiting until prey come close enough and then sucking them rapidly from the water with their long snouts. Their eyes move independently of each other, maximizing their search area. They will eat anything small enough to fit into their mouths

The name hippocampus comes from the ancient Greek, loosely hippos meaning horse and campus meaning sea monster. Hippocampi refer to the mythical creatures on which the sea gods rode. Early zoologists initially classified seahorses as insects not fish.

You can download the iSeahorse iPhone app from https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/iseahorse-explore/id705658119.

Project Seahorse is recognised by the IUCN as the global authority on seahorses and their relatives. The group works to protect seahorses in order to support ocean conservation more broadly, generating cutting-edge research and using it to inform highly effective conservation interventions.?

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