“More seahorses are being seen, particularly here in the sanctuary area (protected area). We are optimistic because the population is increasing and, since last year, more have been observed. There is an appreciable increase”, said Rui Santos, a researcher at the Center for Marine Sciences (CCMAR) at the University of Algarve, without specifying concrete numbers.
The Ria Formosa seahorse protection area was created in 2020, with a view to reversing the downward trend in populations that have taken place over the last two decades, putting the species on the brink of extinction in the area.
Monitoring of seahorses in the protected area, an area of the Ria Formosa located between Faro and Olhão, began just over a year ago when the species was repopulated for the first time.
At the time, a group of 60 seahorses was released, which during this period showed “impeccable behaviour”, finding “protection and an adequate habitat”, added another CCMAR researcher, Jorge Palma.
“We managed to find some animals for a few months before they dispersed, and in good physical condition, that is, they were eating perfectly, after, in captivity, they were also provided with natural food. We saw that they stayed here, where they benefit from this protected area,” he pointed out.
Monitoring is carried out on a bi-monthly basis, making it possible to identify all released seahorses. “The head profile varies from animal to animal and we use our own software that matches the photographs taken in one month and in subsequent months”, explained the researcher.
In the second repopulation action, carried out on 24 November, CCMAR technicians released a group of about 150 seahorses into the protected area, three dozen of which were newborns.
The 'Seahorse' project, developed by CCMAR with funding from the Belmiro de Azevedo Foundation, has the collaboration of the Institute for the Conservation of Nature and Forests (ICNF) and the Portuguese Environment Agency (APA)/ARH do Algarve.