Hippocampus barbouri 

Scope: Global
Language: English

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Taxonomy [top]

Kingdom Phylum Class Order Family
Animalia Chordata Actinopterygii Syngnathiformes Syngnathidae

Scientific Name: Hippocampus barbouri Jordan & Richardson, 1908
Common Name(s):
English Barbour's Seahorse, Zebra-snout Seahorse
Hippocampus aimei Roule, 1916
Taxonomic Source(s): Lourie, S.A., Vincent, A.C.J. and Hall, H.J. 1999. Seahorses: an identification guide to the world's species and their conservation. Project Seahorse, London, U.K.

Assessment Information [top]

Red List Category & Criteria: Vulnerable A2cd ver 3.1
Year Published: 2017
Date Assessed: 2017-01-19
Assessor(s): Pollom, R.
Reviewer(s): Ralph, G.
Contributor(s): Wiswedel, S., O’Donnell, K. & Foster, S.
Hippocampus barbouri is a coastal seahorse species that inhabits seagrasses in shallow waters off the coasts of the Philippines, Malaysia, and Indonesia. Details of population size and trends are sparse, but the existing indirect evidence suggests cause for concern, especially as H. barbouri is among the more commonly traded species internationally. Fisher-reported declines have been documented in the past. Due to this extensive and continuing trade, combined with mortality from ever-present bycatch and ongoing destruction of its seagrass habitats, it is suspected that this species has undergone declines of at least 30% in the past 10 years. Therefore Hippocampus barbouri is assessed as Vulnerable under criterion A2cd.
Previously published Red List assessments:

Geographic Range [top]

Range Description:Hippocampus barbouri is recorded from the Philippines, Malaysia, and Indonesia to a maximum depth of 10 m (Lourie et al. 2016). In the Philippines, the species' range includes the southern portion of Luzon, the Visayas, Palawan, and Mindanao. In Malaysia the species occurs off the coast of northwestern Sabah. The species is present off Java, Bali, Sulawesi, and  Kalimantan in Indonesia.
Countries occurrence:
Indonesia (Bali, Jawa, Kalimantan, Sulawesi); Malaysia (Sabah); Philippines
FAO Marine Fishing Areas:
Indian Ocean – eastern; Pacific – western central
Additional data:
Lower depth limit (metres):10
Range Map:Click here to open the map viewer and explore range.

Population [top]

Population:Population estimates for Hippocampus barbouri are currently unknown but trade surveys conducted by Project Seahorse have shown that this species is widely traded for traditional medicine, the aquarium trade and for curios (Vincent 1996, Perry et al. 2010, Foster 2016). There is also evidence from fisher surveys that there have been local declines in seahorse numbers generally in Malaysia and the Philippines (O'Donnell et al. 2010, Perry et al. 2010) and it can be suspected that similar reductions are occurring throughout this species' range where the same threats are found.

Respondents at various levels of trade (including fishers, buyers, wholesalers, retailers, exporters and officials)  in 1998 and 1999 in Malaysia reported declines in seahorse numbers and availability and that H. barbouri was one of the most common species traded (Perry et al. 2010). If declines from this study are extrapolated to 2016, seahorse numbers declined by approximately 58% in Malaysia over the past ten years (Perry et al. 2010). Surveys in Thailand showed similar results, with the population declining by 56-88% over the past ten years (Perry et al. 2010).

In the Philippines seahorse fishers also reported substantial declines between 1970 and 1994 (O'Donnell et al. 2010). Although this study did not focus on H. barbouri, these trends are indicative of seahorse populations in the area where this species occurs. The fishers in the Philippines cited overfishing, the increasing population of fishers, and indiscriminate catch of seahorses, including pregnant and immature seahorses, as causes of the observed decline in catch. If extrapolated to 2016, seahorses declined in the Philippines by about 66% (O'Donnell et al. 2010).

General seahorse population declines within H. barbouri's range are suspected as a result of habitat degradation and declines in seagrasses (Marcus et al. 2007, Short et al. 2011, Lim et al. 2011), and mortality from intense trawling bycatch (Giles et al. 2006, Perry et al. 2010) — and indeed these threats are known to occur throughout this species’ range (FAO 2001, Perry et al. 2010). Declines in seagrasses are particularly concerning as this is H. barbouri's primary habitat. In addition, H. barbouri is reported in international trade in large volumes (UNEP–WCMC 2016). Trade in this species has been reported from as early as 1998 in Malaysia (Perry et al. 2010), and since the implementation of the listing of all Hippocampus species in 2004 on Appendix II of CITES (UNEP-WCMC 2016). The large and potentially unregulated numbers of H. barbouri in international trade led this species to be selected by the CITES Animals Committee for the Review of Significant Trade following COP15 (UNEP–WCMC 2012). This RST determined that a large proportion of international trade in seahorses was made up of H. barbouri (Foster 2016). This major threat has been acting on this species for more than ten years, and it is reasonable to suspect that trade will continue into the future.

Although not quantified, most fishers interviewed in this species' range states reported declines that were at times substantial between 1995 and 2000 (Lawson et al. 2017). Although these declines were prior to the current 10 year time frame over which the species is being assessed, fishing and especially trawling pressure has increased substantially across this species' range in the past decade.

Overall, due to previous declines reported by fishers, intensification of the fisheries in the region, and habitat degradation and loss, it is suspected that declines of at least 30% in Barbour's Seahorse have occurred over the past 10 years.
Current Population Trend:Decreasing
Additional data:
Continuing decline of mature individuals:Yes
Extreme fluctuations:UnknownPopulation severely fragmented:No
Continuing decline in subpopulations:Unknown
Extreme fluctuations in subpopulations:UnknownAll individuals in one subpopulation:No

Habitat and Ecology [top]

Habitat and Ecology:Hippocampus barbouri occupies shallow seagrass beds up to a maximum depth of 10 m (Lourie et al. 2004). The species feeds primarily on calanoid copepods and decapod larvae, but has also been known to ingest euphausid shrimps and the larvae of polychaetes and fish (Garcia et al. 2012).

This species may be particularly susceptible to decline due to it occurring in this very vulnerable in-shore habitat (Short et al. 2011) and having ecological and life-history traits that make the species susceptible to exploitation (Foster and Vincent 2004).  As is the case with all seahorses, this species is ovoviviparous and the males give birth to live young (Foster and Vincent 2004). All seahorse species have vital parental care, and many species studied to date have high site fidelity (Perante et al. 2002, Foster and Vincent 2004), highly structured social behaviour (Vincent and Sadler 1995), and relatively sparse distributions (Lourie et al. 1999); these traits make seahorses vulnerable to harvest and bycatch. There are some traits, such as small body size, fast growth and high fecundity that may make seahorses more resilient to exploitation (Morgan 2007). However a specialized life-history coupled with a dependence on shallow habitats that are subject to extremely high fishing and other anthropogenic pressures are cause for concern.
Continuing decline in area, extent and/or quality of habitat:Yes
Generation Length (years):2
Movement patterns:Not a Migrant

Use and Trade [top]

Use and Trade: Hippocampus barbouri has been widely reported in international trade for use in traditional medicine, curios and for the aquarium trade (UNEP–WCMC 2012a, Hou et al. 2016). In Malaysia, the majority of seahorses, including H. barbouri, are caught as bycatch in other fisheries but some are caught in small-scale target fisheries where fishers catch them by hand or with nets (Perry et al. 2010).

Declines in seahorse availability have been reported for several countries where H. barbouri is known to occur. Surveys in 1998 and 1999 in Malaysia and Thailand reported trade in this species and that both fishers and traders noted the availability of seahorses had been decreasing (Perry et al. 2010). Surveys in the Philippines have also reported more recent and substantial declines in catch rates of seahorses generally (O'Donnell et al. 2010). There is, at present, a national ban on the capture and trade of seahorses in the Philippines (Philippine Department of Agriculture 1998), however field research in the area revealed that fishing continued in spite of the ban (O'Donnell et al. 2010, UNEP–WCMC 2012b).

Since the implementation of the CITES Appendix II listing of seahorses in 2004 this species has been one of the most traded seahorses and large volumes of both live and dry trade in H. barbouri, approximately 200,000 individuals per annum, have been recorded (UNEP–WCMC 2012a). And given that a large proportion of the trade reported to CITES is only reported to the genus level, it is possible this volume underestimates the true extent of trade in this species (Vincent et al. 2013, Foster 2016). Taken together this information suggests continued exploitation of this species throughout its range.

Fishers in Sulawesi sell their catch to dealers in Makassar, and from there they are sent to Bali for international export (Lourie 2016).

In Pulau Badi, Sulawesi, there is a land-based aquaculture initiative that provides a source of this species for the aquarium trade. These cultured seahorses are CITES-certifiable, and over 2800 were exported prior to 2014 (Williams et al. 2014, Lourie 2016).

Threats [top]

Major Threat(s): Hippocampus barbouri is threatened by exploitation, from targeted small-scale fisheries as well as bycatch in trawl fisheries (Vincent et al. 2011). The species is targeted and retained as valuable bycatch for the global trade in traditional medicine and aquarium fishes (Perry et al. 2010).

This species is also threatened due to a loss of seagrass habitat in the region, which results from destructive trawl fisheries, shrimp aquaculture, coastal development and sea-filling, and pollution (Short et al. 2011).

Conservation Actions [top]

Conservation Actions: All Hippocampus species are listed under Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). This means that countries who are signatories to CITES are subject to regulations on the export of seahorses. Countries are required to provide permits for all exports of seahorses and are meant to provide evidence that these exports are not detrimental to wild populations. However a lack of basic information on distribution, habitat and abundance means many CITES Authorities cannot assess sustainability of their seahorse exploitation and meet their obligations to the Convention.  The challenge is particularly large in that most seahorses entering trade are caught incidentally as bycatch and thus imposing export quotas would achieve next to nothing for wild populations.

CITES has recommended a minimum size limit of 10 cm height for all seahorse specimens in trade (CITES Decision 12.54). This limit represents a compromise between the best biological information available at the time of listing and perceived socio-economic feasibility.  But we urgently need information on wild populations to assess their conservation status and take conservation action, as well as refine management recommendations.  For example, evidence on variation in the spatial and temporal abundance of seahorses would enable areas of high seahorse density to be identified, as the basis for considering area restrictions on non-selective fishing gear that obtains Hippocampus species as bycatch.  An understanding of the technical and logistical feasibility of returning to the sea live seahorses taken as bycatch in various types of fishing gear would provide the basis for considering the feasibility of minimum size limits and/or other output controls. Establishing monitoring program of landings of seahorses at representative sites, taking into account different gear types and means of extraction and recording catch and effort metrics would allow us to assess population conservation status and develop management recommendations for various fishery types.

iSeahorse ( is a website and smartphone app that allows anyone who observes a seahorse globally to report the sighting. This citizen science initiative helps scientists gain a better understanding of where seahorses are, the depths and habitats they use, their size, and population fluctuations. It also serves to engage the public in seahorse and marine conservation.

Citation: Pollom, R. 2017. Hippocampus barbouri. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2017: e.T40802A54906903. . Downloaded on 20 September 2018.
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