Responsible Natural Medicine: Project Seahorse

Without breathing tanks, a young man dives into the ocean waters of his homeland. As he fights the gentle push of the current, he discovers the object of his desire. A statuesque creature clings to sprouting kelp on the ocean floor. It gently bows to the current pushing its back and elegantly extends as the returning waters brush through again. The creature curls back into its most familiar shape, almost tilting the head down as if the long face has been bridled like the land mammal that shares its name. This elegant figure is known to scientists as Hippocampus, but most of the world knows its kind as the Seahorse.

Hippocampus Taeniopterus SOURCE: beautifuldeepocean.com

The young man plucks the Seahorse from his safety anchor and brings him up to the small fishing dingy. This particular being is placed in a small glass tank, next to others chosen to have their lives ended in the sun for other purposes. So is the story of millions of Seahorses, a tale though dark, is one that must be considered for the health and survival of the worlds oceans.  The young man does not know his contribution to the damage of the ecosystem, all he knows is that his family will eat for another week. The seahorses he collects are bought by a chain of handlers who feed into a multi-billion dollar enterprise. Some of these Seahorses are sold to traders for aquariums, but most will be dried and processed for medicine. Seahorses are used in natural medicine commonly prescribed by doctors who practice a form of alternative medicine called Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM).

Thousand of dried Seahorses sold for medicine in TCM. SOURCE: Project Seahorse

These TCM doctors prescribe dried Seahorses ground into a powder to treat certain ailments, but the most common application of this powder is for men who have erectile dysfunction. Consuming ground-up Seahorses is a Natural medicine alternative to drugs such as Viagra and other medications engineered for similar reasons. Although this natural medicine is an alternative for treating ailments such as erectile dysfunction, it has created a very unnatural impact to all Seahorse species, and in turn the ocean reefs they call home.

The question that arises for those seeking solutions to this negative impact on the Seahorse population and their environments is: How can the world’s Seahorse population be protected when they feed a multi-billion dollar industry? Two scientists, Dr. Amanda Vincent and Dr. Heather Koldewey, sought to find those solutions. Early on Drs. Vincent and Koldewey understood that the need for a holistic approach was the only way to protect Seahorses and their ecosystems. On their quest they founded Project Seahorse. Project Seahorse describes themselves as “…a marine conservation group dedicated to securing a world where marine ecosystems are healthy and well-managed.” This holistic approach, that Project Seahorse uses, is quite unique as it truly focuses on all the stakeholders involved with the industry. This holistic focus addresses the fish, the ecosystem, the fisher, the community, the region/trade, the nation/policy, and the world/outreach.

Project Seahorse Holistic Approach. SOURCE: Project Seahorse

One way Project Seahorse saves Seahorses is by educating fishermen, like the young man mentioned earlier. Fishermen are taught about their overfished waters and how they can assist with cleaning up the ecosystem. This will then cause increases the fish population leading to sustainable ecosystems that will support the fishermen and their communities. The fisherman and communities also learn to relate to the plight of the Seahorse. They learn how the Seahorse mates for life, how it must eat frequently to thrive, and how its presence indicates the very health of the waters it calls home.

Project Seahorse has also worked hard by painstakingly producing conclusive research on Seahorse ecosystems, to show a country’s region/trade how their resources are dwindling and what factors need to be addressed to create a more sustainable industry. This is also where the importance of responsible medicine comes into view. Since TCM is one of the largest contributing factors to the diminishing Seahorse population, then they too must be included in the solution gathering aspect. This is also proven to be another challenge for Project Seahorse, but it is understood that the holistic approach they are taking to address this issue will in time produce many positive results.

Hippocampus among the Kelp

The research generated by Project Seahorse has also been instrumental in a landmark global agreement by, the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) to forbid the exportation of Seahorses when the wild Seahorse population cannot sustain the burden.

As one can see, the Project Seahorse mission and the implementation of the agreements made by CITES is a very difficult task. However, Project Seahorse has experienced successes and they shall continue to build on those successes by applying solutions using their holistic approach. Project Seahorse is a fine example of how an organization can make changes that will affect all stakeholders of an issue, in a positive way by involving them with making solutions right from the very start. It would seem that, as the age of globalization continues, the collaborative methods employed by Project Seahorse will prove to be an effective template for anyone addressing a negative impact of any sort in their communities. It could very well be that organizations using similar methods implemented by Project Seahorse will find many successes addressing multi-faceted issues – and finding solutions that will make positive impacts in the world’s future. Only time will tell if this is possible, although it is comforting to know that organizations such as Project Seahorse exist, and their sole purpose is redirecting practices to benefit all worldwide.

-M- 

.

Comments

  1. Great article Michelle. it’s a great example of the interconnected web between the pharmacopeia, endangered species, and the needs of a population who’s health is on the decline. The male Chinese population is being depleted by the Standard American Diet and therefore will have all sorts of lipid related diseases including erectile dysfunction in the near future. The demand for treatment options will only increase and the seahorse as a source of testosterone will further jeopardize their status. On a lighter note, i had no idea that the male seahorse becomes pregnant and gives birth to the offspring.

    • Michelle Quevedo says:

      Hi Tayler,
      What an fascinating aspect you have brought to this article’s dialogue? So you’re saying that the depleted diet caused by western influence has caused lipid diseases leading to erectile dysfunction. Incredible! As you have pointed out, the testosterone from the millions of seahorses is not really going to cure the issue if the cause is dietary. Also on that same light note- I also find it fascinating how male seahorses are impregnated and give birth! With all that testosterone, you’d think it would not be possible. Hmm… What would the world be like if men could give birth?

  2. I made a trip to Belize ummm..6 years ago? One of our dive masters was this local young man, he was such an advocate for his country, and one of the things he was an advocate for was the Seahorse. The was a little atoll where there were Seahorses and while he would take a small group of people there, he also was a bit of a watch dog about it too, watching for fishermen. He told us they were endangered, but I didn’t recall all the reasons why, certainly not the part about being used in Western or Chinese medicines. I am not sure that he was aware of that particular issue either, but regardless, he was aware.

    • Michelle Quevedo says:

      That is so interesting Wanda! Yes, although the majority of Seahorses in the world die for TCM erectile dysfunction treatments, another significant portion is depleted due to pollution and removal by people to sell for aquariums. I’m glad your dive master protects them in Belize. Aside from being adorable, Seahorses are a key species indicating the health of their home ecosystem. Atolls are very vulnerable to exploitation of their resources. This kind of awareness is so important and it would appear that it is proving itself effective. Thank you so much for adding to this dialogue! It really enhances to this subject.

  3. Surprised this is happening? I’m curious, is there any evidence that this seahorse treatment actually works, or is it more mythology? Well anyway, thanks for keeping us in the know Michelle.

    • Michelle Quevedo says:

      Well the effectiveness of the Seahorse treatment is really unknown clinically to those who practice TCM. As Taylor mentioned in the post above, Seahorses do have levels of testosterone that can effect an erection in men, but it is not a lasting treatment and not nearly as effective as drugs such as Viagra, Cealis and other pharmaceutical treatments.

  4. Mimi Shoop says:

    Interesting article about the impact that our human tendency to overdo everything seems to have on ecosystems. The Monterey Bay Aquarium in California has a fascinating exhibit of seahorses. I hope that organizations like these can make a difference in how we view the world, which is not here just for our exploitation. It all matters.

    • Michelle Quevedo says:

      I agree Mimi. There is a growing positive impact on many communities as of a result from the efforts of Project Seahorse. The Philippines is its most successful project and also the oldest. Although this approach may seem slow, its successes are longer lasting than if they would just work on awareness regarding the plight of the Seahorse. The Monterey Bay Aquarium does an astounding job with education and awareness regarding ocean and ocean wildlife conservation. It is one of the brightest stars in US conservation efforts. Thank you so much for this contribution to the dialogue of this subject Mimi, it really adds to our conversation here. 🙂

  5. I have enjoyed reading your articles. The topics are varied, insightfull and well written. Please keep them coming.

    • Michelle Quevedo says:

      Thank You Leslie! It’s my hope to continue bringing content like this to you and all our other readers 🙂

  6. I am stunned and horrified….can only continue to shake my head. thank you for bringing this in to the light – and may that light continue to shine down upon this issue to resolve it and many more issues like this.

    • Michelle Quevedo says:

      Yes Debbie, I took shake my head about this issue. I personally thought that the Seahorse trade would have died down once Viagra had proved itself so effective, but unfortunately people think that this “natural” source is better. However Project Seahorse has made a lasting positive impact and as long as we have dialogue about this issue, it will give fuel to the champions of the Seahorses.

  7. Seahorses are such wonderful little creatures, as are humans. It’s amazing how tender and fragile our ecosystems really are. We are all so intricately connected. I sometimes forget that. Thank you for the reminder. And great article as they all have been so far! Looking forward to the next feel good read!

    • Michelle Quevedo says:

      Thank You Stacey! Yes, it’s easy for all of us to forget how closely we are connected to everything in this world, but if we continue the dialogue about such issues, we will indeed make a lasting positive impact issues like these 🙂

  8. Good article, Michelle. An Interesting but sad story. Hope seahorses do not go the way of the rhinos. Glad that someone is focused on trying to protect these beautiful and fascinating creatures.

    • Michelle Quevedo says:

      Thank You Hazel! I certainly hope that the Seahorses will not be hunted to the point of extinction like the rhinos. We shall sea how this all plays out in the future, although I believe that Project Seahorse and other marine biologists are definitely in the right direction towards positive impact. 🙂

  9. Cathy Fitzgerald says:

    Michelle,
    Another fascinating article and another degree of separation. In my previous life as a marine biologist/ichthyologist, we studied overfishing and the tragedy of the commons – how individual fishermen acting independently will ultimately deplete a shared limited resource even though it’s in no one’s best interest. Project Seahorse shows that all parties working together to promote conservation of the species will benefit all. Has anyone tried seahorse aquaculture as we now do with salmon, shrimp, oysters, clams, and scallops?

    • Michelle Quevedo says:

      Thank You Cathy! Yes there are efforts in motion trying to create a Seahorse aquaculture, however the efforts have been very difficult. As with many Key Species, the Seahorses are very delicate and any change can cause them to catch diseases and die. However Project Seahorse has helped the Philippine government create Seahorse preserves providing former Seahorse fisherman with work as preservation specialists. The Project Seahorse research has been able to start calculating how many wild Seahorses should be harvested before the impact is too great on their numbers. Now they are working hard to educate the stakeholders in the industry, so that they can learn to preserve their industry and their future trade.

  10. A fascinating and sad article. Your story was highlighted by the 2 photos: the beautiful world of the seahorse and the dead, dried seahorses hanging on a stand.

  11. Thanks for bringing this to light Michelle! I had no idea seahorses were used for that! WTF? There are plenty of other herbs to get a woody without resorting to seahorses! C’mon! Why do we have to strip the oceans of everything when there are many other solutions to health ailments. Sad. Makes me think of Avatar…without the hard on problems…lol
    I’m glad Project Seahorse exists!

  12. Hello! I’ve been reading your blog for some time now and finally got the courage to go ahead and give you a shout out from Porter Tx! Just wanted to mention keep up the excellent job!

  13. Wow! This blog looks exactly like my old one! It’s on a entirely different subject but it has pretty much the same layout and design. Outstanding choice of colors!

  14. I all the time emailed this website post page to all my friends, as if like to read it next my links will too.

  15. Howdy! Do you know if they make any plugins to help with SEO?
    I’m trying to get my blog to rank for some targeted keywords but I’m not seeing very good gains.

    If you know of any please share. Kudos!

  16. My spouse and I stumbled over here by a different web page and thought I should check things out.
    I like what I see so now i amm following you. Look forward to looking over yor
    web ppage repeatedly.

  17. New Year’s resolutions and for its skin-softening properties.
    A careful history looking for, whether it’s real or
    fake lashes that are usually thought of as benefit from
    it can regulate the blood, increasing lymph circulation and natural way to relieve dental pain. Archaeological findings
    of research, 61% of chinese culture America’s population are overweight
    or obese and 10-15% are actually strategic conductors of electromagnetic energy field
    created by a headache everyday or he’ll assist you ready your anticipation.

Trackbacks

  1. […] am not going to knock my Chinese brothers and sisters with their unsual traditional medicines and all-around strange healing techniques but I will not be indulging in them. I just cannot get my […]