August 22, 2012
A pair of seahorses attached to fine brown algae
Pictures by Paul Ferber (© 2012)
In June of 2012 The Seahorse Trust, Save Our Seahorses, Marine Conservation Cambodia (MCC) and the people of Cambodia set up a partnership to preserve and conserve the seahorses and marine environment in Cambodia through conservation and aquaculture.
During the fact finding trip funded by Projects Abroad and MCC we explored the waters of the islands, expanding on MCC’s existing projects, to include behavioural studies of the seahorses in the wild. We also worked with them to set up a captive breeding unit for seahorses in the purpose built aquaculture centre in Sihanoukville on the mainland to replenish the wild stocks that have become rare because of overfishing.
Newly born seahorse fry against Paul’s wedding ring
Pictures by Paul Ferber (© 2012)
Marine Conservation Cambodia, supported by Projects Abroad working with the people of Cambodia have been working on Koh Rong Samleom and Koh Rong for a few years now and their work ranges from community based projects, such as setting up and teaching in the schools, beach cleans, running the health centre to micro financing locals projects and businesses.
Due to the combined work of all parties, an area was set up between Koh Rong Samloem and Koh Rong as a Community Fisheries Area (CFA). This area has been devastated in the past by unregulated trawlers from Vietnam sweeping through the site taking everything with it. Since the implementation of the CFA the seabed has started to recover and fish species are coming back and larger fish are now starting to be seen. This area is now being put forward as a Site of Conservation Interest (SCI) by the Department of Fisheries Conservation, where only licensed activities can be undertaken.
Originally on the site there were 8 species of seahorse, since the devastation this has now been reduced to two species but very slowly numbers are starting to increase and although as yet there are still 2 species, it is hoped with increased conservation measures and the starting of the aquaculture project then all the 8 species can be reintroduced back to the local waters in combination with a habitat restoration scheme.
The location of the study site is between Koh Rong Samleom and Koh Rong just south west of Sihanoukville in South Western Cambodia; about 2 hours boat ride from the mainland.
Step one in protecting this unique area was to put in the Community Fisheries Area (CFA) and make sure this has been patrolled to protect it from illegal fishing by Vietnamese fishermen, who come down from Vietnam and devastated not only the fish stocks and seahorses but the habitat as well.
Due to the hard work of everyone involved, this area is now a Site of Conservation Interest (SCI), where only licensed activities can be undertaken, this was designated by the Department Of Fisheries (conservation) after our trip to the islands.
This amazing picture taken by Paul Ferber MCC founder and CEO shows 2 Hippocampus kuda lying in dead plant debris hiding away. This picture clearly shows how well they camouflage themselves.
(Paul Ferber© 2012)
A research study project was put into place at the same time as making it a CFA to check on the condition of the reefs, seabed and seahorses; this has been ongoing for several years now, funded by Projects Abroad volunteers.
With the setting up of the CFA and SCI, the seabed is slowly recovering and it is hoped over the next few years it will return to full health and diversity.
This project is only possible with the support of the local people and this not only provides much needed jobs and incomes; it in turn, lifts people out of poverty and gives a better standard of living. By having the support and working in partnership with the people of Cambodia it will be possible to control long term development for the benefit of everyone concerned.
A very spikey looking Thorny Seahorse (Hippocampus histrix) living up to its name. In this area seahorses live on Pencil Urchins and by being so spikey the seahorses can hide well.
(Paul Ferber© 2012)
There are 8 species of seahorses in the area but sadly due to the devastation of the uncontrolled trawling only two are now found in the study area. By combining research with aquaculture it is possible to restore the ecological balance and it is hoped that within a few short years it will be possible to see all 8 species back again into the area.
Seahorses are notoriously susceptible to stress and habitat degradation and with the seabed being so devastated, it is not a surprise, that so many species disappeared. The crucial steps taken so far have mainly removed the threat to the habitat; have gathered much needed data and is trying to restore the site by taking several measures aimed at doing this.
The Seahorse Trust with Save Our Seahorses and its partners in the country have designed a series of projects and studies to understand more about the unique behaviour of the seahorses on this site.
Everything about these seahorses is unusual from behaviour to association with other species and the site is giving us an opportunity to learn new things about seahorses that have never been recorded in the wild before.