US government considers protection for Dwarf seahorse

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A tiny seahorse found in US waters may be given protection under the Endangered Species Act.

The Dwarf seahorse (Hippocampus zosterae) which lives in seagrass beds in the Gulf of Mexico, the Atlantic coast of Florida and the Caribbean, is the smallest of four species found in US waters, reaching only around 2.5cm/1" in size.

The seagrass beds in which they live have declined dramatically, with Florida alone losing more than half of its seagrasses since 1950. Because the dwarf seahorse is a habitat specialist, loss of seagrass equates directly to population declines.

The BP oil spill two years ago contaminated much of the species’ remaining range; oil pollution and dispersants used to break up oil are toxic both to seahorses and to seagrasses.

"Oil spills like the one two years ago in the Gulf of Mexico exact a terrible toll on marine life, especially species like the Dwarf seahorse that were already struggling to survive," said Tierra Curry, a conservation biologist at the Centre for Biological Diversity, which has petitioned for the protection of the seahorse. "These inevitable, catastrophic spills will be a threat as long as we persist with destructive, dangerous offshore drilling."

Now the national Marine Fisheries Service has agreed to conduct a year-long review of the Dwarf seahorse's status, in order to decide if it should be protected under the Endangered Species Act.

The Dwarf seahorse has a lifespan of just one year. According to Guinness World Records, it is the slowest moving fish, with a top speed of about 5' per hour.

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