Endangered spiny seahorse returns to its former stronghold in Dorset after the coronavirus lockdown leads to a reduction in people and boat traffic

  • The seahorse was found in Dorset during a regular survey dive at Studland Bay 
  • The researchers found 16 seahorses during the survey including pregnant males
  • This is the largest number found on the site since monitoring started in 2008 
  • Here’s how to help people impacted by Covid-19

The spiny seahorse has returned to its former stronghold in Dorset as a result of a reduction in people and boat traffic due to coronavirus lockdown measures.

Marine conservationists carried out a regular survey dive at Studland Bay, where they found 16 seahorses including pregnant males and a newly born juvenile.

The Seahorse Trust says this is the largest number found on the site since they began monitoring there in 2008 – before this none had been seen in two years.

Both UK seahorse species, the spiny and short snouted have special protection status but normal human activity can drive them away.

During one regular survey dive at Studland Bay, the Seahorse Trust found 16 seahorses including pregnant males and a juvenile that had been born this year.

Neil Garrick-Maidment, Seahorse Trust founder, says the increase in numbers is a direct result of a drop in human activity – including people, boat traffic and associated noise and anchors in the area due to lockdown measures.

‘The ecology of the site has made a remarkable recovery,’ he said.

‘We have seen so many seahorses because the food chain has recovered, giving seahorses plenty of food to eat, and crucially, somewhere to hide.

‘The seagrass has started to repair itself, and the spiny seahorses have taken advantage of this.’

Following years of campaigning, Studland Bay was finally designated as a Marine Conservation Zone last year.

That was in recognition of its seagrass habitat and seahorse population.

Mr Garrick-Maidment said ‘the question is how we go forward’ in protecting the species after we come out of lockdown measures.

‘We do not want boats and divers banned, but the seahorses and seagrass do need their legal protection enforced.’

He said the 16 seahorses found on a single dive were an amazing discovery, but added that some enforcement was needed to ensure they remain safe.

‘We now need the Marine Management Organisation (MMO) and Natural England to enforce the Wildlife and Countryside Act and the Marine Conservation Zone and put in place measures such as environmentally friendly moorings,’ he added.

Garrick-Maidment said the seahorses need protection to stop them being disturbed again as COVID019 restrictions are lifted.

He said it was also to ‘stop them vanishing from this legally protected site’.

‘We have a unique opportunity to help nature and to restore the balance of our planet,’ the founder of the trust said.

‘We must grab this with both hands, for the seagrass, for the sea, for humanity and crucially for these incredible seahorses.’

Following years of campaigning, Studland Bay was finally designated as a Marine Conservation Zone last year in recognition of the importance of its seagrass habitat and seahorse population

Natural England acts as a statutory adviser to the Marine Management Organisation, which is responsible for managing the site at Studland Bay.

The agency said conservation advice for the protected marine habitats and species at the site were constantly being reviewed and would be updated if needed.

Matt Heard, Natural England area manager for Wessex, said they were firmly committed ‘to protecting our precious habitats and wildlife’.

He said they were already consulting on updated conservation advice for the Studland Bay Marine Conservation Zone following the discovery.

‘We continue to work with the MMO and local groups to ensure the Marine Conservation Zone and its special wildlife are well managed, conserved and protected so that they can be enjoyed sustainably for generations to come.’

A spokeswoman for the MMO said both species of UK seahorses were ‘fully protected’ under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.

‘Any activity that could potentially disturb seahorses requires a wildlife licence,’ she said. Adding that ‘intentionally disturbing seahorses without a licence could lead to enforcement action.’

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