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White's Seahorse attached to net
Photograph: Wikimedia Commons/Sylke Rohrlach

Sydney’s endangered seahorse population is finding new life in ‘seahorse hotels’

The White’s Seahorse is thriving in luxury ocean bed accommodation

By
Alannah Maher
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Sydney’s reputation for stunning beaches precedes it. But we can’t forget that the briny deep surrounding our Emerald City is not only for the enjoyment of humans, but is home to aquatic species like the endangered White’s Seahorse, or Sydney Seahorse.

The future has been uncertain since these delicate little slow swimmers (we’re not being rude, they really are known to be one of the slowest critters in the ocean) were declared endangered in 2018. However, in much-needed good news, we can report that a conservation program involving ‘seahorse hotels’ introduced to the sea bed in Clifton Gardens in Mosman is showing signs of success. The hotel residents, seahorse babies who have been reared in their dozens at a custom-built breeding facility at Sealife Sydney Aquarium, are successfully surviving and thriving four months after their release into the wild. 

Loss of habitat is one of the main threats to the White’s Seahorse, which only lives off the east coast of Australia and can mainly be found in Port Stephens, Sydney Harbour and Port Hacking. The Sydney population can mainly be found on man-made swimming nets within the harbour. But when these nets are periodically cleaned and repaired, the seahorses are further displaced.

This is where the seahorse hotels come in. They’re artificial structures that become natural over time, as they accumulate marine life like sponges and corals, creating the perfect environment for this species of seahorse. The baby seahorses now calling these hotels home were tagged and released in May (we’d love to see the itty bitty dart gun used to tag a baby seahorse) during the height of lockdown, and have since been observed weekly by a special team of divers under the guidance of a UTS Masters Research Student.

One of the baby White's Seahorses from the program suriving in a 'seahorse hotel'Photograph: Supplied/Sea Life Sydney Aquarium

Seahorse expert Robbie McCracken from Sealife Sydney said that the babies are growing well in a statement: “The release in May was successful and, with support from the Sealife Trust, we’ve been fortunate enough to work closely with UTS to observe their progress and growth through weekly monitoring, and can proudly say that they are getting on really well in their new Seahorse Hotels.” 

He added: “We will be able to measure the full success of the program when the seahorses mate and breed, which we hope will begin this coming summer breeding season. Success here will hopefully open the door to the next avenues for the conservation of this species and their habitats.”

The breeding program is a collaboration between Sealife Sydney, the NSW Department of Primary Industries (DPI) Fisheries and the University of Technology (UTS).

You can visit the seahorse breeding facility in person at Sealife Sydney Aquarium, and while you’re there you can meet animals like Plugga the rescue turtle. You can find out more about the White’s Seahorse and the conservation program here and here.

Want to live the life aquatic? These are the best places to go snorkeling in Sydney.

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