Exotic and endangered

THE SEIZURE of two consignments of seahorses by the city police on Wednesday has once again exposed the poor protection status accorded to the marine life and the need for better vigil on the illegal trade of endangered marine life.

Various factors such as poor awareness level among Customs authorities, lack of interest among various Government agencies and poor enforcement of Wildlife Protection Act to penalise the offenders have come in handy for the illegal traders to operate freely.

Palk Bay in the Gulf of Mannar region is a major habitat for the seahorses, from where the specimens are collected in large number, say the researchers. The traders send the dead ones from Ramnad district to the city from where they are illegally sent to a few countries such as China, Taiwan and Japan, where there is a good demand for the seahorses.

Sadly, very few studies have been carried out on the wild seahorse populations and as a result, scientists have no idea about estimated seahorse populations in the wild and do not fully understand the basic biology of the creature. Fishermen and traders, however agree that over a five-year period, the seahorse population has declined by 15 to 50 per cent.

Available records show that world over about 45 countries are involved in trading seahorses with China, Hong Kong and Taiwan being the largest importers of seahorses. India has acquired the distinction of exporting the largest quantity of seahorses - 1.3 million seahorses or 3,000 kgs, a year.

As far as the trade of seahorses is concerned, most of the trade is illegal and unregulated but of late more and more countries are starting to monitor or control trade of sea horses, say the researchers. The Deputy Director of Wildlife Southern Region, Hemanth Kumar, said only last year a ban on collection and export of sea horses was introduced by the Union Government.

Conservation measures have to be taken up immediately and `Sea Ranching' is the only method through which seahorses can be protected. The male seahorses carry out the brood and they have to be released back into the sea. However, the fishermen do not allow the male to survive and hence their population in the wild has reduced drastically, says the Scientist and Officer In Charge, K.Venkataraman of the Zoological Survey of India.

By Oppili P.

Photo: K. Pichumani

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