VOICES Voices Icon Ideas and Insight From Explorers


World’s smallest seahorse facing extinction in oil spill clean-up

One of the world’s smallest seahorse species could disappear due to the Gulf of Mexico oil spill and subsequent clean-up efforts, conservationists from the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) warned today.

dwarf-seahorse-photo-1.jpgNGS stock photo of dwarf seahorse by Robert Sisson

“The dwarf seahorse (Hippocampus zosterae), found only in waters off the Gulf Coast, now faces a bleak future after its much of its habitat was destroyed by the spill,” ZSL said in a news release.

“Scientists are worried that the clean-up process could further diminish dwarf seahorse populations and other marine life,” ZSL added.

Conservationists from the ZSL Project Seahorse team are urging BP to minimize the use of chemical dispersants and the burning of oil during the clean-up process, which is expected to take years, ZSL said.

The conservation charity said:

“Dwarf seahorses, which are less than one inch long, produce few young, making them vulnerable to environmental change.

“The population of dwarf seahorses is expected to decrease dramatically during the clean-up, after the spill exposed them to high levels of oil toxins and destroyed large swaths of their food-rich habitat.

“To slow the oil spill’s movement, BP has burned off the oil caught in seagrass mats floating in open water. While most seahorses live in seagrass beds in the coastal shallows of the Gulf, others live in these loose mats of vegetation offshore.

“Burning these mats has killed many marine animals while depriving others of their habitat and exposing them to further toxicity.”


NGS stock photo of dwarf seahorse by Robert Sisson

“Seagrass is vital to the long-term health of coastal ecosystems, sheltering marine animals, acting as fish nurseries, improving water quality, and preventing erosion. In extreme cases where seahorses are at high risk of poisoning such as this one, seagrass mats and beds can be cut to reduce toxic exposure,” said Heather Koldewey, ZSL’s program manager for the International Marine and Freshwater Conservation Programme.

“However we are urging BP to continue to use booms in the clean-up to isolate the oil slicks. These can be skimmed, left to evaporate, or treated with biological agents like fertilisers, which promote the growth of micro-organisms that biodegrade oil,” Koldewey said.

“It’s absolutely critical that measures be taken to preserve the seagrass mats and beds during this vulnerable time.”

Heather Masonjones, a seahorse biologist at the University of Tampa, said: “It’s absolutely critical that measures be taken to preserve the seagrass mats and beds during this vulnerable time.

“Incidents such as the explosion of the Mariner Energy oil platform, in the Gulf of Mexico only last Thursday, demonstrate how we must act quickly and carefully to give these fragile marine species the best chance of survival.”

ZSL is an international scientific, conservation and educational charity. It runs two zoos, including London Zoo, carries out scientific research at the Institute of Zoology, and is involved in field conservation internationally.

Posted by David Braun from media material submitted by ZSL.

Join Nat Geo News Watch community

Readers are encouraged to comment on this and other posts–and to share similar stories, photos and links–on the Nat Geo News Watch Facebook page. You must sign up to be a member of Facebook and a fan of the blog page to do this.

Leave a comment on this page

You may also email David Braun (dbraun@ngs.org) if you have a comment that you would like to be considered for adding to this page. You are welcome to comment anonymously under a pseudonym. 


  1. hannah
    September 30, 2012, 12:30 pm

    this was stupid when you put out the oil spill