The dwarf seahorse, native to shallow seagrass along the Gulf of Mexico, Florida Keys and areas of the Caribbean, looks set to placed on the endangered species list, in part due to the destruction of its natural habitat. The National Marine Fisheries Service has issued a report backing a petition filed two years ago by the Center for Biological Diversity, which claims that the diminutive seahorse, the smallest in US waters, could soon become extinct due to a range of threats, from illegal fishing to bycatch mortality and habitat loss, the latter of which has accelerated with frequent oil spills (including the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster).
The decline of the dwarf seahorse (Hippocampus zosterae) population has been noted in Florida in recent years. The report observes that “the dwarf seahorse’s habitat is restricted almost completely to seagrass canopies… in shallow waters less than two meters [with higher salinities]. The National Marine Fisheries Service additionally noted that “[i]t is evident that the dwarf seahorse is inextricably associated with seagrass and the inferences made about the species’ declining status due to habitat loss are supported,” according to MSNBC. This seagrass has been in rapid decline in recent years, with Florida alone losing over half its seagrass areas since 1950.
The seahorse is the latest species to be impacted by the environmental crisis in the Gulf of Mexico. In the wake of the Deepwater Horizon disaster dolphins on the Louisiana coast have been found to be incredibly ill and shrimp and other marine life have developed mutations, lesions and tumors. But the pollution and habitat destruction of the Gulf Coast has been ongoing long before 2010 as ill-regulated platforms and pipelines leak oil into the Gulf of Mexico, and as hurricanes and tropical storms caused increased damage to oil infrastructure and wetlands areas, contributing to coastal erosion. The report also makes note of the threat posed to habitat by invasive species, the most notable of which is the nutria, a mammal native to South America which is believed to be responsible for thousands acres of wetlands destruction each year.
In addition to facing threats from habitat loss, the Dwarf seahorse may also be susceptible to population decline from other interventions, as the slow-moving creatures are caught with other species by the commercial fishing industry and captured and removed from their natural habitat for the commercial aquarium industry.