Image via KQED video screengrab
Seahorses are some of the most beloved of the tropical fish. But, they're also very popular in traditional Chinese medicine, used for for male virility, and as souvenirs. The Monterey Bay Aquarium describes the fragility of seahorse populations: "Seahorses and the places they live face a range of threats in the wild, including destruction of the coral reefs and sea grass beds where seahorses live, fishing techniques which mistakenly catch seahorses, and collection of seahorses for souvenirs or for use in traditional medicines." Seahorse Sleuths is a film by KQED that explores the struggle they face for survival in their threatened habitats, working with local scientists who are trying to understand more about seahorses so that they can be better protected.
Gaining access to information about how seahorses are used and thought of in the traditional Chinese medicine trade is no easy task. Producer of Seahorse Sleuths, Joan Johnson, states, "I spent days in San Francisco's Chinatown trying to get shop owners who sell Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) to talk to me about their trade, and specifically about seahorses. I must have visited 20 or so stores, multiple times, and I saw many hundreds of dried seahorses and thousands of shark fins, not to mention enormous piles of antlers, skins, penises, and whole dried animals. Though I tried many different approaches, no one would talk to me...I was clearly an outsider and not to be trusted. (Had I managed to garner the trust of one of the shop owners, I would have certainly included them in the piece). This experience made me even more impressed and appreciative of the hard work that the folks at Project Seahorse are doing, and exhausted at the thought of how far they still have to go to convince fisherman and governments around the world not to decimate their seahorse populations."
Project Seahorse is a global effort to save seahorses, which have suffered a decline from worldwide coastal habitat depletion, marine pollution, and rampant harvesting. While definite populations are unknown, some of the 35 species are being pushed to extinction.
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