What is the context of this research?
In 2013, I began my PhD research with three months of underwater surveys searching for seahorses along Thailand's western coast to gather basic information on seahorse distribution. Unfortunately after an intensive search effort, I found only eight individuals.
Before starting my research, I consulted local marine biologists and our Thai partners to identify potential mangrove, seagrass and coral reef habitat. I used methods that had been tried and tested by seahorse researchers in other areas. So why did I find so few seahorses? Could it be by chance that I was looking in the wrong places? Or for some reason these established methods didn't work well in Thailand? Or had there been so much fishing, and therefore accidental capture of seahorses, that they were just hard to find?
After gathering information on seahorse habitat from fishers, and additional field seasons with collaborating researchers, we have now identified several locations with relatively high seahorse abundance.
My upcoming field season will involve visiting these sites to compare methods for searching for seahorses to determine which method is the most effective. Additionally my research will determine the optimal number of times a researcher must survey a site to feel confident about the number of seahorses living there.
What is the significance of this project?
Seahorses are all listed on Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species (CITES), which means countries have to prove their exports of seahorses are not harmful to wild populations. Thailand, the world's largest exporter of seahorses for international markets, is assessing its local seahorse populations in support of sustainable trade. Its efforts will to create an adaptive management program for seahorses to ensure the sustainability of wild populations, seahorse fisheries, and trade.
Project Seahorse, the world authority on seahorses, is assisting Thailand with its research needs. As a Project Seahorse Ph.D candidate, the results of my research will contribute to these efforts by providing information to managers about which methods to use to monitor their wild populations and local fisheries, and the duration and frequency of monitoring.
We need to act now to ensure they are effectively managed for conservation. Sampling to gather data on animal abundance and distribution is a essential to this goal. Although these data can be difficult and costly to attain, they are at the heart of identifying conservation needs and testing the efficiency of management actions. My results will be highly applicable because questions surrounding detection rates, field methods, and sampling regimes are applicable across all species and disciplines.