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Discovery of rare seahorse highlights need to protect Cornwall’s marine habitats

Seahorse stock image by Matt Slater

A rare seahorse found in a Cornish estuary is one of only a small number identified in Cornwall over the last decade, experts say.

Cornwall Council’s nature recovery officer Alicia Shephard spotted the long-snouted seahorse on a tideline during a lunchtime walk alongside an estuary. Using her phone camera she filmed the tiny horse-like fish as it floated above the seabed.

Alicia then recorded the sighting with the Environmental Records Centre for Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly (ERCCIS). The ERCCIS collates data on all species sightings in the region, not just the rare and protected, and disseminates it for research and conservation purposes.

Only seven sightings of long-snouted seahorses – also known as spiny seahorses – have been previously reported in Cornwall since 2014. The exact location of the sighting is not being disclosed to help protect the species.

Its discovery is being hailed a sign of the improving health of Cornish rivers and estuaries and the ongoing need to protect and restore nature in the region.

Alicia said: “I can’t stress enough how special it is to see a seahorse thriving in Cornwall waters.

“Seahorses are protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act and you must have a license to handle them.

“This is an insanely rare species to find and isn’t something most people will ever see in their lifetime.” 

Cllr Martyn Alvey, Cornwall’s member for environment and climate change, said:

“This incredible sighting by a member of our nature recovery team highlights the wealth of wildlife we have in Cornwall and the great work we’re doing to protect and restore nature.

“Our Local Nature Recovery Strategy covers our marine habitats which are vital to protecting species such as the seahorse. 

“If you spot rare species such as this do record it with the Environmental Records Centre. If you want some ideas to help protect biodiversity in Cornwall, why not make a Pledge for Nature? There are many ideas at https://naturecios.org.uk/pledge/.”

Seahorses face challenges in the wild partly because their natural habitats are being degraded and their poor swimming skills place great weight on their ability to cope with climate changes.

Research shows that seahorse populations have undergone rapid declines with reports of seahorses disappearing from coastal areas.

Thriving populations of seahorses are seen as good indicators of healthy oceans and habitats for a multitude of other marine animals.

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