Off the coast of Sydney, Australia, underwater cages teem with life. A rare species lives in these submerged steel “hotels.” Researchers say endangered seahorses seem ready to call the area “home.”
The White’s Seahorse, also known as the Sydney Seahorse, is native to Australia’s east coast. Its natural habitat stretches over 900 miles from Hervey Bay, Queensland, south to the Saint Georges Basin, New South Wales. The area includes Sydney Harbor.
God made seahorses with some very unusual traits. First, although the animal looks like a curly-tailed horse, it is actually a fish. Unlike most fish, this creature swims upright and has no teeth. The spiked sea stallion pulls food into its long snout, and its eyeballs move separately. Plus, seahorses are one of only three animal species for which the males carry and deliver babies. The male seahorse hosts the young in a pouch on its abdomen. The male White’s Seahorse can give birth to 150-200 fry (young) at once!
Today, the delicate seahorse’s natural home is threatened by boating, storms, and pollution. In 10 years, its population had dropped 90 percent.
Marine biologist David Harasti leads the charge to ensure the survival of this vanishing species. He hopes both to boost the White’s Seahorse population and to restore its habitat.
Harasti noticed White’s seahorses gathering near abandoned fishing traps. So he created seahorse “hotels” out of chicken wire. The wire helps keep out larger predators.
In March, researchers sunk nine “seahorse hotels” to the bottom of Sydney Harbor. For two months, the hotels attracted a host of aquatic life.
“As the steel itself sort of degrades away a lot of corals, sponges, and encrusting marine organisms sort of land and take hold of that structure,” says seahorse expert Robbie McCracken. “And that grows into a really suitable habitat for seahorses and all the food they like to eat.”
Last May, researchers released 95 seahorses into their new home. The scientists tagged the animals with neon dots. The spots should allow researchers to monitor the fish long term.
“Populations have declined over the last decade because of habitat loss,” says Harasti. “By releasing these babies, the idea is to restart the populations and get them breeding.”
He continues, “The problem is in the wild, . . . [baby seahorses] are only about a centimeter long, and they look like tasty little dinner snacks to all the fish around them.” However, thanks to the relative safety of their new home, experts say the baby seahorses appear to be thriving.