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.
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).
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.
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.
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.