Stop seahorse poaching in the Ria Formosa, Portugal

  • by: Daniela M
  • recipient: President of the Olhão city council, Mr. António Miguel Pina

The Ria Formosa Natural Park is a protected area of international importance located in the Algarve, in the south of Portugal. The Ria Formosa is of crucial importance to most avifauna, given that it is a resting area for migratory birds and a wintering place for a considerable number of waterfowl. The natural park is also a nesting site for the birds arriving in the Spring and for those that make the Ria Formosa their permanent habitat. A variety of marine fauna live here since the lagoon works as a nursery to some marine species.

The national park is also known to be home to one of the densest seahorse colonies in the world. However, the world's largest seahorse population is facing dire problems. Loss of habitat due to dredging and the movement of boats is highlighted as one of the main culprits for the alarming decline in seahorse populations in the park, which have reduced by 85 percent since 2000. The other main culprit is poaching.

The two species that live here are the Long-Snouted seahorse (hippocampus guttulatus) and the Short-Snouted seahorse (hippocampus hippocampus). Even though their habitat in the Ria Formosa is protected, there is no one guarding the area. As such, boats enter the area illegally and cause much harm. Just as worrisome is the increase in poaching driven by the demand for seahorses from Asian markets.

Last November, in Marbella, Spain, 3 Portuguese men from Olhão were caught trying to sell 7 quilos of dried seahorses (2133 seahorses) for 10 thousand euros. There is demand for them in China where they are used as a natural afrodisiac; a kind of «Viagra» of tradicional chinese medicine.

According to researchers from the University of the Algarve, numbers of seahorses in the natural park are rapidly dwindling. If nothing is done to safeguard their habitat and stop the poaching, they say, they face extinction in just a few years. This is shocking and completely avoidable.

Please kindly ask the mayor of the Olhão city council, Mr. António Miguel Pina, to intervene in this critical situation. I have filed a formal request for the protected habitat to be guarded and I will also be sending him this petition once it's finalized with your help.

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