What does it take to spot the world’s most endangered seahorse? Quite a bit of patience apparently, a good eye and when the seahorse in question is sighted carrying eggs, well that’s cause for celebration!
Marine researcher, volunteer coordinator at the Orca Foundation and conservationist, Melissa Nel posted some rare photos of a Knysna seahorse carrying eggs on ther Instagram account, @melmakeswaves with the caption, “We’re about to have some baby seahorses in the Keurbooms estuary!!” Melissa confessed that it was a very special sighting for her as it took a couple of years to spot her first Knysna seahorse hiding in the eelgrass of the estuary in Plettenberg Bay. However, she says, “Now, they just pop out to me, almost saying: ‘Hi Mel, here I am, nice to see you again!’ “ The reproductive behaviour of seahorses is notable in that the male carries the fertilised eggs – which is what Melissa photographed. After an elaborate courtship, the female uses an ovipositor (egg duct) to place her eggs into the male’s brood pouch where the eggs are later fertilised.
This delicate species is notoriously difficult to spot with a standard length of up to only 12 cm and colouration strongly influenced by the surrounding environment. The Knysna seahorse, or Cape seahorse (Hippocampus capensis) is endemic to the South African coastline and is actually only know to be found in three estuaries in the world: Keurbooms, Knysna and the Swartvlei system in Sedgefield.
Interest in the marine life of the Keurbooms Estuary proved to be tremendous at last year’s Marine Science Symposium at the Beacon Island Resort during the Plett Ocean Festival where Melissa’s colleague at the Orca Foundation, Dr. Chantel Elston presented an impressive and well-received talk: “What lives in the Keurbooms Estuary?” with footage captured by the marine observation system, BRUV (Baited Remote Underwater Video). The festival and marine science symposium will take place again this year in Plettenberg Bay from 30 June – 9 July 2023.
The limited range of the Knysna seahorse does put it at risk of extinction and conservation plays a very important role. In fact in the Keurbooms Estuary, a period of strong river flow may even have resulted in temporary extinction of this beautiful species in that location. Thankfully, the seahorse was found again in the estuary during more recent surveys conducted by the ORCA Foundation with indications that the population diminished due to floods in 2007 and 2011.
FUN FACT: The name of the genus that contains seahorses is taken from the words hippos (horse) and kamps (meaning sea monster)!
ARE YOU CONSIDERING A CAREER IN MARINE CONSERVATION?
Have you thought about doing a volunteer programme with the Orca Foundation? The ORCA Foundation, a conservation node of Ocean Blue Adventures, was designed to create awareness about marine conservation issues facing Plettenberg Bay. The foundation combines research, conservation and education into its comprehensive volunteer program. The foundation strongly depends on the willingness of international volunteers to contribute their time and dedication to help further their work. Volunteers of different ages and backgrounds come from all over the world to learn and provide valuable assistance in a wide variety of meaningful projects. This allows them to make a valuable contribution to increased knowledge and awareness regarding local conservation efforts. Find out more on www.orcafoundation.com