Out of danger
|Author: William R. Adan, Ph.D.
THE PHILIPPINE seahorse
(Hippocampus spp.), reported last
year to be on the brink of extinction, is
out of danger.
And the fishermen--the very people who threaten its
existence--may yet be the same people who will play a crucial
role in assuring and enhancing its production and survival in
This will be accomplished by seeding
known seahorse habitats with
seedlings and mature seahorses
produced through simple techniques
developed by researchers at the
Mindanao State University in Naawan,
'The technology we have developed
is very simple and the cost will soon
be within the reach of ordinary
fisherman,' said Emilio Tubio, the
research team leader.
'Instead of continuously harvesting
the animal from the wild and
eventually depleting its natural stock, the fishermen may soon
raise it in their own backyard, using locally available materials,'
Tubio said during a research-in-house review held recently.
Dr. Marcelino Tumanda Jr., dean of research at the MSU
Institute of Fisheries Research and Development, announced in
the same forum that the university will teach the fishermen how
to raise and make money from seahorses.
But they must 'make a covenant with us that they will release to
seahorse habitats a certain percentage of their production (to)
ensure the survival of the species and provide them with sturdy
broodstock and breeders from the wild,' Tumanda said.
Seahorse habitats include seagrass beds, coral reefs and
The seahorse is exploited worldwide for its reputed medicinal
value. According to traditional Chinese medicine, it is known to
cure various ailments, such as asthma, arteriosclerosis, skin
diseases, goiter and lymph disorders.
It is also reported to be a potent aphrodisiac that has been used
by the Chinese and other Orientals, centuries before the
It is also collected for the aquarium and curio trade.
The exploitation of seahorses for international trade is very
serious. In 1994, the Chinese reportedly consumed six million
seahorses and the Taiwanese, three million.
Dried seahorses cost $250-450 per kilo and live ones, for as high
as $1,500 per kilo. Thus, fishermen in the Philippines and
elsewhere go berserk in harvesting the animal, even to the edge
The study of the MSU-Naawan aims to produce seahorses on a
commercial scale under controlled conditions, similar to how
sugpo (tiger shrimp) production was revolutionized in the late
In the Naawan experiments, seahorse breeders weighing 9-16
grams each and with body lengths of 8-10 inches, were collected
from the wild and stocked in five pairs in 45-liter aquariums. The
tanks were mildly aerated and well-lit.
The breeders were fed with artemia. The tanks were cleaned
daily and water was replaced once a week.
One unique characteristic of seahorses is that the males bear
pregnancy. The males, nonetheless, actively initiate the
'Seahorses are gentle, monogamous and sexually faithful
creatures,' says Ruby Gonzales, a member of the research team.
'It is reported that in the wild, pairs do not divorce and a pair
bond only terminates when one partner disappears or dies.'
Incubation lasts 12 days. A day after the release of the
hatchlings from the male pouch, courtship starts again. The
hatchlings number from 430 to 484.
Accidents in the transfer of eggs during copulation would
cause the eggs to drop to the bottom of the tanks. This
contributes greatly to very low production.
'Incomplete' or aborted copulation was attributed to the rather
low water column in the tanks. The couples, at times, reach the
surface of the water and are forced to separate without
The larvae are separated from their parents and reared in
separate tanks. They are fed live copepods, a zooplankton that
is dominant in most coastal waters, immediately upon their
extrusion from the male pouch.
Feeding is unlimited inasmuch as copepods are abundant in
nearby coastal waters. Fed alive, copepods do not pollute the
After 10 days of culture, the experiment showed that there was
no significant weight difference among the young seahorses
which were fed with artemia, copepods, or their combination.
This implies that one can do away with the expensive artemia as
After 30 days, however, the seahorses start to show preference
for the combination of copepods and young and adult artemia.
The primary problem of seahorse production at the
MSU-Naawan is the infestation of breeders with protozoans.
Heavy infestation causes body wounds that usually result in
bacterial and fungal infection. When this occurs, the seahorse
loses its appetite and eventually dies.
The researchers, however, solved this problem through 'water
cure' treatment. A certain volume of freshwater is added to the
tanks to dilute water salinity up to a certain point that kills all
protozoans without harming the seahorses.
Commercial production of seahorses in confinement has very
promising prospects. Breeders are easily available in the wild
and can be produced in captivity.
The seahorse has a short life cycle and can be raised and
harvested in four months. It can be cultured in tanks made of
wood, canvas or other cheap materials.
Demand for seahorses is very high in the local and international
markets and the price they command simply dazzles the mind.
At the moment, the Naawan researchers are concerned with
coming up with cheaper feed substitute for artemia, an imported
product (also the main feed for shrimp and prawn larvae).
'We are experimenting on various possible feeds for seahorses.
We learned that the animals feed on mysid, a tiny shrimp-like
malacostracan crustacean,' Tubio said.
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