Could this unique species of seahorse, an inhabitant of Sabah’s east coast islands, be under threat because of the actions of over-enthusiastic divers?
The pygmy seahorse (Hippocampus bargibanti) is found at coral reefs at diving havens such as Sipadan and Mabul in Malaysia as well as Papua New Guinea, the Philippines and Indonesia.
Most species of these creatures have only been discovered in the last 10 years. This is due partly to their tiny size – up to just 2.5 cm long, and the fact that they have evolved to perfectly resemble their host gorgonian fan in both form and colour.
Since their discovery in Malaysia, these tiny creatures have become a popular attraction for divers. Enthusiasm to view these creatures means as many as 100 divers a day congregate on their habitat
Malaysian marine biologist Yeong Yee Ling who has been researching the creatures for the past three years is concerned. The pygmy seahorse, which is on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Animals, is sensitive to stress and bright lights and the use of camera flashes and torch lights could cause shock and injury. However there are no marine park regulations in place in Malaysia that rule this practice as potentially harmful.
Out of concern for their protection, a two-day Pygmy Seahorse Seminar was held recently at Pulau Mabul to discuss the care needed in approaching them and their habitat.
The discussions held during the seminar which involved Sabah Parks and most of the dive operators in the area, will be synthesised into a Code of Conduct For Divers .
It is hoped that this will put a stop to irresponsible underwater photography and direct physical contact and aid in protecting and preserving the Malaysian pygmy seahorse population for many years to come.
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