Legislation and agreements

Project Seahorse actively promotes government decision-making for seahorse and marine conservation at village, municipal, regional, national and global levels.

Translating agreements into action

Legislative and legal support can be very beneficial for seahorse conservation, as long as the intended actions are implemented. Translating existing paper agreements and declarations into action would be a powerful way to advance conservation of seahorses and other marine species. We need to nudge the great many decisions and acts that appear to be valuable on paper but never leave the page. Given that many policy promises are already in place, advocates for their enforcement should be pushing at an open door, seeking to promote action on matters that have already been debated and decided. Much remains to be done.

National legislation and regulation

A survey by Project Seahorse in 2020, on behalf of the IUCN SSC Seahorse, Pipefish and Seadragon Specialist Group, examined the level of national legislation and regulation specifically directed at seahorses and their relatives. We found such regulations for seahorses in 32 of the 130 countries where the species occur (range States), usually referring to all seahorse species in national waters. Legislation for wild seahorses included a diverse array of protective measures: preventing harming, injuring or disturbing individuals of the protected species; restricting fishing, capturing or collecting seahorses; preventing international trade (suspending exports and/or imports) in seahorses; preventing damage to the habitats of protected seahorses. Interestingly, policies to protect seahorses were commonly independent of national conservation assessments for the same species, even where these existed.

International agreements

Seahorses are also included in a number of international agreements, although the benefits of such designations are often unclear. For example, both European seahorse species are covered by the Bern Convention, an international agreement on the conservation of European wildlife and natural habitats. In theory, neither of the seahorse species can be disturbed, captured, killed or traded in all 14 range states under this Convention. Likewise, both seahorse species are included in the Barcelona Convention for the Protection of the Marine Environment and Coastal Region of the Mediterranean. Its eleven seahorse range states are required to ensure that the two seahorse species are managed and maintained in a “favourable state of conservation” ensuring “their maximum possible protection and recovery”. As with national legislation, the challenge is to promote meaningful implementation of all agreements. All seahorses are also listed on Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), which means their international trade must be regulated for sustainability and legality.