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In a landmark event ten months in the making, a group of aquarium bred White’s Seahorses were released at Chowder Bay as part of a critical conservation project aimed at helping recover this iconic Endangered species.
The White’s Seahorses – affectionately known as the Sydney Seahorse - were part of a recovery project led by SEA LIFE Sydney Aquarium in collaboration with the NSW Department of Primary Industries (DPI) Fisheries and the University of Technology Sydney (UTS).
The purpose of the project was to successfully breed, raise, and release the White’s Seahorses into the wild and monitor their success in helping reverse the decline of this iconic endangered species.
The decline in the White’s Seahorse is largely due to habitat loss and degradation - with much of their natural seagrass, sponge and soft coral habitats disappearing - meaning that providing new artificial habitats was a key element in the recovery program. The breeding, release, and monitoring of these seahorses, and the hotels they live on, will help shape and expand the long term conservation and recovery of this species.
Dr. David Harasti, Senior Marine Scientist with DPI Fisheries, has over a decade of experience working with seahorses and oversaw the release: “Today was a momentous occasion, having released our seahorses into Sydney Harbour in an effort to save the population. Now we’ll be conducting regular diving surveys to monitor their growth, survival and breeding in the wild. This monitoring program is critical for assessing how the Seahorse Hotels, as a conservation tool, helps the species to recover”.
To help support the husbandry of the seahorses and the long-term research, Dr. David Booth, Professor of Marine Ecology at UTS is supervising a Masters Research student and said: “UTS [Fish Ecology lab] will continue to collaborate with the upcoming release of juvenile seahorses, with UTS Masters research student Brooke (Bee) Kyle tracking the success of the new releases and how they fare in their new hotels over the ensuing months and years.
The Seahorse Hotels were trialled in Port Stephens in 2018 and 2019 and were found to be very successful in attracting seahorses which led to mating and breeding. The hotels start as artifical habitats that grow into natural habitats once they are placed in the marine environment. Over time they are grown over by corals, sponges, algae and encrusting animals that colonise the structures, providing protection from predators and a ready supply of food, making them the perfect home for seahorses. Seahorse Hotels are designed to be completely biodegradable, so the artifical structures will slowly collapse under the weight of the marine growth leaving a new natural habitat behind. The SEA LIFE Trust's 'Ocean Youth' helped with the construction fo the hotels, along with Seadragon Diving Co, and Sydney-based Indigenous Sea Rangers with support from DPI's Marine Estate Management Strategy (MEMS).