New smartphone app offers hope for seahorse science and conservation
A new app launched this week by the Zoological Society of London's (ZSL) Project Seahorse offers hope for unique discoveries about some of the ocean's most mysterious and threatened animals, seahorses. iSeahorse Explore allows anyone, anywhere in the world, to contribute to marine science and conservation via their smartphone, by simply logging a sighting every time they come across a seahorse in the wild. 'We know that seahorses are threatened by overfishing, destructive fishing practices, and habitat loss. Now we need to pinpoint populations and places that most need conservation action,' said Dr Heather Koldewey, co-founder of Project Seahorse and head of global conservation programmes at ZSL. Marine conservationists from the Zoological Society of London, University of British Columbia (UBC), John G. Shedd Aquarium, and iNaturalist, who collaborated on the app development, are keen this will pave the way for similar efforts with other, difficult to study species. With their small size and ability to blend into their surroundings, seahorses are hard to study in the wild. Of the 48 seahorse species listed on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, 26 are considered 'data deficient'. iSeahorse Explore will expand the number of people studying seahorses in the wild from a handful of scientists to hundreds and potentially thousands of 'citizen scientists'. Added Dr Amanda Vincent, director of Project Seahorse, UBC and ZSL's joint marine conservation initiative: 'We've made important scientific breakthroughs with seahorses in recent years, but they remain incredibly enigmatic animals. Working together with citizen scientists all over the world, we'll accomplish big things for seahorses and other vulnerable marine species.' New features planned for the next phase of the iSeahorse website and smartphone app include sophisticated population monitoring and advocacy tools, as well as a social media component. To learn more about iSeahorse and explore seahorse maps, species profiles, and other data, visit iseahorse.org.