Hippocampus spinosissimus 

Scope: Global
Language: English

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Taxonomy [top]

Kingdom Phylum Class Order Family
Animalia Chordata Actinopterygii Syngnathiformes Syngnathidae

Scientific Name: Hippocampus spinosissimus Weber, 1913
Common Name(s):
English Hedgehog Seahorse
Hippocampus aimei Roule, 1916
Taxonomic Source(s): Lourie, S.A., Pollom, R.A. and Foster, S.J. 2016. A global revision of the seahorses Hippocampus Rafinesque 1810 (Actinopterygii: Syngnathiformes): Taxonomy and biogeography with recommendations for future research. Zootaxa 4146(1): 1-66.
Taxonomic Notes: The 1996 and 2000 IUCN Red Lists included Hippocampus aimei, this is now considered a synonym of H. barbouri and H. spinosissimus. Genetics and morphometrics suggest that H. queenlandicus (Kuiter 2001) be recognized as a synonym of H. spinosissimus (P. Teska & S. Lourie, unpublished data). Commonly confused with H. histrix.

Assessment Information [top]

Red List Category & Criteria: Vulnerable A2d+4d ver 3.1
Year Published: 2012
Date Assessed: 2012-06-11
Assessor(s): Wiswedel, S.
Reviewer(s): Morgan, S.K. & Foster, S.
Hippocampus spinosissimus is listed as Vulnerable under criterion A based on suspected declines of at least 30% due to high levels of exploitation, most of which can be attributed to non-selective fishing practices. Hippocampus spinosissimus is one of the two seahorse species most often reported as being traded internationally, with an average of over 1.7 million individuals reported in trade per annum between 2004 and 2008 (Evanson et al. 2011). 

The primary source for seahorses found in international trade have been landed as bycatch in non-target fisheries (Foster and Vincent 2004, Vincent et al. 2011) and this is true for H. spinosissimus (Vincent 1996, Giles et al. 2006, Morgan and Panes 2008, Perry et al. 2010, Evanson et al. 2011). Since 1995, H. spinosissimus was reported as one of the most abundant seahorse species caught as bycatch in trawl fisheries (Giles et al. 2006, Meuuwig et al. 2006, Perry et al. 2010).
Previously published Red List assessments:

Geographic Range [top]

Range Description:Hippocampus spinosissimus' range encompasses much of the Eastern Indian Ocean and the Western Pacific. Its range spreads from the East coast of India and Sri Lanka across to Taiwan and throughout Southeast Asia to Northern Australia (Lourie et al. 2004).
Countries occurrence:
Australia; Cambodia; Indonesia; Malaysia; Myanmar; Philippines; Singapore; Sri Lanka; Taiwan, Province of China; Thailand; Viet Nam
FAO Marine Fishing Areas:
Indian Ocean – western; Indian Ocean – eastern; Pacific – western central; Pacific – northwest
Additional data:
Lower depth limit (metres):70
Upper depth limit (metres):8
Range Map:Click here to open the map viewer and explore range.

Population [top]

Population:Global population estimates for Hippocampus spinosissimus are currently unknown but analyses of trade and surveys conducted by Project Seahorse have shown that this species is widely traded for traditional medicine, the aquarium trade and for curios (Vincent 1996, Giles et al. 2006, Perry et al. 2010, Evanson et al. 2011). Evidence from fisher surveys indicated local declines in seahorse availability and catch, including H. spinosissimus, in the Philippines, Malaysia and Thailand and that the majority of H. spinosissimus are landed as bycatch (Morgan and Panes 2008, Perry et al. 2010). It can be suspected that comparable reductions are occurring throughout the species' range where the same threats are found (FAO 2001, Perry et al. 2010) .

The large reported volumes of H. spinosissimus in international trade indicates pressure on populations throughout its range. 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. Trade surveys and data reported to CITES indicate that H. spinosissimus is one of the species most reported as being traded internationally (Evanson et al. 2011). This trade has been occurring throughout its range  from the mid 1990's to the present (Giles et al. 2006, Perry et al. 2010, Evanson et al. 2011, UNEP-WCMC 2012a,b).

Interviewees in the late 1990s in Malaysia and Thailand reported that seahorse availability had declined, including declines in H. spinosissimus (Perry et al. 2010). Targeted fishing in the central Philippines caused local declines of H. spinosissimus of over 80% over two months (Panes and Giles 2004). Fishers in the Philippines have reported high levels of decline in seahorse catches between 1970 and 2003 (O'Donnel et al. 2010). 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 rates (O'Donnell et al. 2010).

Based on large volumes of reported trade as a result of bycatch in multiple fisheries throughout its range, it is suspected that there have been continuing declines of at least 30% in the past 10 to 15 years and that these declines are likely to continue into the future.
Current Population Trend:Decreasing
Additional data:

Habitat and Ecology [top]

Habitat and Ecology:Hippocampus spinosissimus are found in reef systems, occupying silt/sand bottoms (Lourie et al. 2004). In the central Philippines this species is most commonly found on relatively barren soft or sandy bottoms, in shallow depressions associated with octocorals, sea stars, sea pens, sea surchins, sponges, submerged wood and macroalgae but is seldom found on reefs or in association with hard corals (Morgan and Panes 2008). Malaysian trawls containing H. spinosissimus also captured similar substrates (Choo and Liew 2003). This species is often found at depths deeper than 8m with a maximum reported depth of 70m (Lourie et al. 2004, Morgan and Panes 2008). 

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 over-exploitation. They also have some traits, such as small body size, fast growth and high fecundity, that may confer resilience to exploitation pressures (Morgan 2007). However a specialised life-history coupled with a dependence on shallow habitats that are subject to extremely high fishing pressure, and the fact that seahorses do not move very much and are thus easily captured, means they are very vulnerable to over-exploitation. The importance of life history parameters in determining response to exploitation has been demonstrated for a number of species, including seahorses (Jennings et al. 1998, Foster and Vincent 2004).
Continuing decline in area, extent and/or quality of habitat:Unknown
Generation Length (years):2

Use and Trade [top]

Use and Trade: Hippocampus spinosissimus is traded both live, for the aquarium trade as well as dry, for use in traditional medicine (Evanson et al. 2011, Vincent et al. 2011). Hippocampus spinosissimus has consistently been recorded as one of the most abundant species in the international trade of seahorses (Evanson et al. 2011, Vincent et al. 2011a, UNEP-WCMC 2012a) and due to these large volumes of potentially unregulated trade, H. spinosissimus was selected for the CITES Review of Significant Trade following the 24th meeting of the CITES Animals Committee in 2009 (UNEP-WCMC 2012b). 

Even though this seahorse has spines on its body, which is known to be less desirable in the traditional Chinese medicine trade (Vincent 1996), it is still heavily traded. Indeed, since the implementation of the listing of all Hippocampus species on Appendix II of CITES in 2004, Hippocampus spinosissimus has been one of the top two species most reported species to CITES as being traded internationally with an average of over 1.7 million individuals reported in trade annually between 2004 and 2008 (Evanson et al. 2011), this trend has continued through to 2010 (UNEP-WCMC 2012a). Although trade in seahorses has been banned in some countries in it's range, illegal fishing and trade is still ongoing in countries such as Cambodia, China and the Philippines (UNEP-WCMC 2012b).

Form as early as 1995, Hippocampus spinosissimus has been reported as one of the most abundant seahorse species caught and traded in Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam and that most of the seahorses were caught as by-catch in the trawl fisheries but also by subsistence and small scale target fishers (Giles et al. 2006, Meuuwig et al. 2006, Perry et al. 2010). This suggests that trade in this species has been ongoing for at least 10 to 15 years.

The Australian populations of this species were moved under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999, so export permits are now required. There is currently a national ban on the capture and trade of seahorses in the Philippines as per The Philippine Fisheries Code of 1998: Republic Act No. 8550. Other countries such as Cambodia, China and Sri Lanka have also reported bans on trade in seahorses (UNEP-WCMC 2012b). Since 2001, all seahorses have been listed under Schedule 1 of the Indian Wildlife Protection Act, which bans trade in these species (Indian Ministry of Environments and Forests 2001).

Threats [top]

Major Threat(s): Hippocampus spinosissimus is threatened from bycatch in multiple artisinal and commercial fisheries throughout its range such as in Cambodia (cited in UNEP-WCMC 2012a), Malaysia and Thailand (Choo and Liew 2003, Perry et al. 2010), the Philippines (Panes and Giles 2004) and Vietnam (Giles et al. 2005). These fisheries are known to occur throughout much of H. spinosissimus' range and cause substantial damage to these habitats (FAO 2001, Giles et al. 2006, Perry et al. 2010).

Heavy trade in Hippocampus spinosissimus is recorded throughout its range and is one of the two most reported species in trade (UNEP-WCMC 2012a,b, Evanson et al. 2011). The large volumes of legal and illegal trade throughout this species' range are an indicator of high levels of exploitation pressure from bycatch exerted on this species.

Seahorses life history and ecological traits may increase their susceptibility to these threats (see Habitats and Ecology).

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 development management recommendations for various fishery types.

Classifications [top]

9. Marine Neritic -> 9.1. Marine Neritic - Pelagic
9. Marine Neritic -> 9.4. Marine Neritic - Subtidal Sandy
9. Marine Neritic -> 9.7. Marine Neritic - Macroalgal/Kelp
9. Marine Neritic -> 9.8. Marine Neritic - Coral Reef -> 9.8.5. Inter-Reef Soft Substrate
3. Species management -> 3.1. Species management -> 3.1.1. Harvest management
3. Species management -> 3.1. Species management -> 3.1.2. Trade management
4. Education & awareness -> 4.2. Training
4. Education & awareness -> 4.3. Awareness & communications

In-Place Research, Monitoring and Planning
In-Place Land/Water Protection and Management
In-Place Species Management
In-Place Education
  Included in international legislation:Yes
  Subject to any international management/trade controls:Yes
5. Biological resource use -> 5.4. Fishing & harvesting aquatic resources -> 5.4.1. Intentional use: (subsistence/small scale) [harvest]
♦ timing:Ongoing ♦ scope:Unknown ♦ severity:Unknown ⇒ Impact score:Unknown 
→ Stresses
  • 2. Species Stresses -> 2.1. Species mortality

5. Biological resource use -> 5.4. Fishing & harvesting aquatic resources -> 5.4.3. Unintentional effects: (subsistence/small scale) [harvest]
♦ timing:Ongoing ♦ scope:Unknown ♦ severity:Unknown ⇒ Impact score:Unknown 
→ Stresses
  • 2. Species Stresses -> 2.1. Species mortality
  • 2. Species Stresses -> 2.2. Species disturbance

5. Biological resource use -> 5.4. Fishing & harvesting aquatic resources -> 5.4.4. Unintentional effects: (large scale) [harvest]
♦ timing:Ongoing ♦ scope:Unknown ♦ severity:Unknown ⇒ Impact score:Unknown 
→ Stresses
  • 2. Species Stresses -> 2.1. Species mortality
  • 2. Species Stresses -> 2.2. Species disturbance

5. Biological resource use -> 5.4. Fishing & harvesting aquatic resources -> 5.4.6. Motivation Unknown/Unrecorded
♦ timing:Ongoing ♦ scope:Unknown ♦ severity:Unknown ⇒ Impact score:Unknown 
→ Stresses
  • 2. Species Stresses -> 2.1. Species mortality

1. Research -> 1.2. Population size, distribution & trends
1. Research -> 1.3. Life history & ecology
1. Research -> 1.5. Threats
1. Research -> 1.6. Actions
3. Monitoring -> 3.1. Population trends

♦  Medicine - human & veterinary

♦  Handicrafts, jewellery, etc.

♦  Pets/display animals, horticulture

♦  Establishing ex-situ production *

Bibliography [top]

Baillie, J. and Groombridge, B. (eds). 1996. 1996 IUCN Red List of Threatened Animals. pp. 378. International Union for Conservation of Nature, Gland, Switzerland and Cambridge, UK.

Choo, C.I. and Liew, H.C. 2003. Spatial distribution, substrate assemblages and size composition of sea horses (Family Syngnathidae) in the coastal waters of Peninsular Malaysia. Journal of the Marine Biological Association of the United Kingdom 83: 271-276.

Evanson, M., Foster, S. J. & Vincent, A. C. J. 2011. Tracking the international trade of seahorses (Hippocampus species) - The importance of CITES. Fisheries Centre Research Reports 19(2). Fisheries Centre, University of British Columbia, Canada.

FAO. 2001. Tropical shrimp fisheries and their impact on living resources. Shrimp fisheries in Africa: Cameroon, Nigeria and the United Republic of Tanzania. FAO Fisheries Circular. No. 974. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Rome.

FAO. 2001. Tropical shrimp fisheries and their impact on living resources. Shrimp fisheries in Asia: Bangladesh, Indonesia and the Philippines; in the Near East: Bahrain and Iran; in Africa: Cameroon, Nigeria and the United Republic of Tanzania; in Latin America: Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Trinidad and Tobago, and Venezuela. FAO Fisheries Circular. FAO, Rome.

Foster, S.J. and Vincent, A.C.J. 2004. Life history and ecology of seahorses: implications for conservation and management. Journal of Fish Biology 65: 1-61.

Giles, B.G., Truong, S.K., Do, H.H. & Vincent, A.C.J. 2006. The catch and trade of seahorses in Vietnam. Biodiversity Conservation, pp. 2497-2513.

IUCN. 2003. 2003 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. www.iucnredlist.org. Downloaded on 18 November 2003.

IUCN. 2012. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species (ver. 2012.2). Available at: http://www.iucnredlist.org. (Accessed: 17 October 2012).

Jennings, S., Reynolds, J.D. and Mills, S.C. 1998. Life history correlates of responses to fisheries exploitation. Proceedings of the Royal Society of London Series B 265:333-339.

Lourie, S.A., Foster, S.J., Cooper, E.W.T. and Vincent, A.C.J. 2004. A Guide to the Identification of Seahorses. Project Seahorse and TRAFFIC North America, University of British Columbia and World Wildlife Fund, Washington D.C.

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.

Mallick, S.A., Driessen, M.M. and Hocking, G.J. 1997a. Biology and conservation of the eastern barred bandicoot (Perameles gunnii) in Tasmania. Wildlife Report No. 97/1. Parks and Wildlife Service, Tasmania, Australia.

Meeuwig, J.J., Hoang, D.H., Ky, T.S., Job, S.D. and Vincent, A.C.J. 2006. Quantifying non-target seahorse fisheries in central Vietnam. Fisheries Research 81: 149-157.

Morgan, S.k. and Panes, H.M. 2008. Threatened Fishes of the world: Hippocampus spinosissimus Weber 1913 (Syngnathidae). Environmental Biology of Fishes 82(1): 21-22.

O'Donnell, K.P., Pajaro, M.G., and Vincent, A.C.J. 2010. How does the accuracy of fisher knowledge affect seahorse conservation status? Animal Conservation 13(6): 526-533.

Panes, H.M. and Giles, B.G. 2004. Compressor fishery monitoring at Cataban, Talibon, Bohol. Project Seahorse Foundation internal report. Project Seahorse Foundation for Marine Conservation, Cebu, Philippines.

Perante, N.C., Pajaro, M.G., Meeuwig, J.J. and Vincent, A.C.J. 2002. Biology of a seahorse species Hippocampus comes in the central Philippines. Journal of Fish Biology 60: 821-837.

Perry, A. L., Lunn, K. E. & Vincent, A. C. J. 2010. Fisheries, large-scale trade, and conservation of seahorses in Malaysia and Thailand. Aquatic conservation: marine and freshwater ecosystems 20: 464-475.

UNEP-WCMC. 2012a. CITES trade statistics derived from the CITES Trade Database. UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre, Cambridge, UK.

UNEP-WCMC. 2012b. Review of Significant Trade: Species selected by the CITES Animals Committee following CoP15.

Vincent, A.C.J. 1996. The International Trade in Seahorses. TRAFFIC International, Cambridge, UK.

Vincent, A.C.J. and Sadler, L.M. 1995. Faithful pair bonds in wild seahorses, Hippocampus whitei.. Animal Behaviour 50: 1557-1569.

Vincent, A.C.J., Evans, K.L. and Marsden, A.D. 2005. Home ranges of the monogamous Australian seahorse, Hippocampus whitei. Environmental Biology of Fishes 72: 1-12.

Vincent, A. C. J., Foster, S. J. & Koldewey, H. J. 2011a. Conservation and management of seahorses and other Syngnathidae. Journal of fish biology 78: 1681-1724.

Vincent, A.C.J., Giles, B.G., Czembor, C.A. and Foster, S.J. 2011b. Trade in seahorses and other syngnathids in non-Asian countries (1998-2001). Fisheries Centre Research Reports 19(1). Fisheries Centre, University of British Columbia [ISSN 1198-6727].

Citation: Wiswedel, S. 2012. Hippocampus spinosissimus. In: The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2012: e.T10084A17251369. . Downloaded on 21 November 2017.
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