Seahorses were listed on the CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) Appendix II in 2002, with implementation as of May 2004. All species of seahorse (Hippocampus spp.) are listed, which means trade can continue but must be managed to ensure it is not detrimental to wild populations, that it is legally sourced, and it must be monitored.
We developed this toolkit to help CITES authorities implement the Appendix II listing of seahorses and overcome any challenges to ensuring that wild seahorses populations are sustainable.
This toolkit includes:
- Easy-to-use guides for identifying all seahorse species (dried or live)
- A step-by-step framework for making non-determinant findings for seahorses
- Trade reports and information for CITES Parties or countries
- Reference material on seahorse conservation
Check back regularly for new versions, and contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org with any suggestions for improvement. We would love to hear from you.
Seahorse listing on CITES Appendix II
- All species of seahorse (Hippocampus, 44 species) were listed on CITES Appendix II at CoP 12 (Santiago, Chile, November 2002). Download proposal
- List of seahorse species
- A revised taxonomy of seahorses was published in 2017 based on the best available genetic, morphological and geographic information at that time. This set of 41 species, along with two species identified since its publication, is being proposed to CoP18 as the Nomenclature Standard Reference for this genus. [Lourie, S.L., Pollom, R.A. and Foster, S.J. 2017. A global revision of the seahorses Hippocampus Rafinesque 1810 (Actinopterygii: Syngnathiformes): Taxonomy and biogeography with recommendations for further research. Zootaxa 4146(1):001–066.]
- New species:
- Short, G., Smith, R., Motomura, H., Harasti, D., & Hamilton, H. 2018. Hippocampus japapigu, a new species of pygmy seahorse from Japan, with a redescription of H. pontohi (Teleostei, Syngnathidae). ZooKeys (779): 27.
- Han, S. Y., Kim, J. K., Kai, Y., & Senou, H. 2017. Seahorses of the Hippocampus coronatus complex: taxonomic revision, and description of Hippocampus haema, a new species from Korea and Japan (Teleostei, Syngnathidae). ZooKeys (712):113.
- Zhang, Y. H., Qin, G., Wang, X., & Lin, Q. 2016. A new species of seahorse (Teleostei: Syngnathidae) from the South China Sea. Zootaxa 4170(2): 384-392.
Regional identification guides
- Simplified ID guide for Southeast Asian Seahorses. Available in English, Bahasa Indonesian, Vietnamese, Thai and Khmer.
- ID Guide for Large Seahorses in Southeast Asia. Available in English, Thai and Malay.
- ID Guide for Seahorses of the Americas
- ID Guide for Eastern Atlantic Seahorses
- Original guide to the Identification of Seahorses (Lourie, S.A., S.J. Foster, E.W. T. Cooper, and A. C. J. Vincent. 2004. A Guide to the Identification of Seahorses. CITES Technical Manual. ISBN 0953469301, now superseded by Lourie et al. 2017).
- Map of Global Seahorse Distribution
- Citizen science tool – iSeahorse – additional resources on seahorses
Life history and ecology
- Foster, S. J. and A. C. J. Vincent. 2004. Life history and ecology of seahorses: implications for conservation and management. Journal of Fish Biology 65(1):1-61.
Fisheries and trade
Trade survey data have been published for both pre- and post-CITES periods for a number of countries. Such surveys of seahorse biology, fisheries and trades, have long served as the backbone of global seahorse conservation work, providing reliable estimates of trade
- Vincent, A.C.J., Giles, B.G., Czembor, C.A., and S.J. Foster. (eds). 2011. Trade in seahorses and other syngnathids in countries outside Asia (1998-2001). Fisheries Centre Research Reports 19(1). Fisheries Centre, The University of British Columbia. 181 pp [ISSN 1198-6727].
- Koldewey, H.J. and K.M. Martin-Smith. 2010. A global review of seahorse aquaculture. Aquaculture 302:131-152.
- Illegal trade in dried seahorses: Media reports of seahorse seizures. (link to spreadsheet)
- Vincent, A. C. J., Foster, S. J., & Koldewey, H. J. 2011. Conservation and management of seahorses and other Syngnathidae. Journal of Fish Biology 78(6):1681-1724.
- National Red List: nationalredlist.org– summarises national conservation assessment for species, where they exist.
Making non-detriment findings for seahorses and management options
A step by step NDF framework
This framework is intended to help CITES Authorities in making “Non-Detriment Findings” (NDFs) for seahorses. We realise making NDFs for seahorses can seem challenging, especially where Parties feel they know little about their seahorse populations. But the truth is you already know enough to get going. Truly. A lot can be done right away with the information you have. Then – in the spirit of adaptive management – you can improve your NDFs as you learn more. The more your seahorse populations are exploited or under pressure from people, the more you will need to pay attention to fixing the NDFs. This framework and the guidance we provide are intentionally generic. They need to apply to many Parties, each with different situations, limitations and opportunities. It is for your Party to decide which parts are appropriate and practical for your national situation.
This framework and supporting material are living documents (continually updated) so please check for updates regularly, and contact us with any suggestions for improvement.
- IUCN and FAO. 2016. Simple is good: moving toward pragmatic and effective monitoring to support CITES implementation for marine fishes and invertebrates on Appendix II
(English | French | Spanish). Information Document for the 17th Meeting of the CITES Conference of the Parties. CoP17 Inf. 65. 7 pp
- Guidelines and protocols have been developed that allow Parties to deduce seahorse population trends (as required by the Convention) from underwater surveys and/or in fisheries. The most effective approach is to survey seahorse landings at a sample of fishing ports on a frequent basis. Such sentinel programs can be integrated into existing fishery monitoring programs
Minimum size limit
- Foster, S.J. and A.C.J. Vincent. 2005. Enhancing sustainability of the international trade in seahorses with a single minimum size limit. Conservation Biology 19:1044-1050.
- Vincent, A.C.J. and B.G. Giles. 2004. International trade in syngnathids. International workshop on seahorse fisheries management. Mazatlán (Mexico), 3-5 February 2004. 36 pp.
- Vincent, A.C.J. and B.G. Giles. 2004. Syngnathid trade – a summary. International workshop on seahorse fisheries management. Mazatlán (Mexico), 3-5 February 2004. 2 pp.
Related Policy Briefings
- 2016. Assisting Parties to meet their commitments: CITES Review of significant trade for Seahorses (Hippocampus spp.), a taxon traded in high volumes. (English|French|Spanish). Information Document for the 17th Meeting of the CITES Conference of the Parties. CoP17 Inf. 53. 10 pp.
- 2016. Implementation of CITES Appendix II listings for marine fishes.
(English | French | Spanish) Information Document for the 17th Meeting of the CITES Conference of the Parties. CoP17 Inf. 65. 5 pp.
- Vincent, A.C.J., Sadovy, Y.J., Fowler, S.L. and Lieberman, S. 2013. The role of CITES in the conservation of marine fishes subject to international trade. [This briefing and the Spanish and French equivalents were distributed at CITES CoP16 and influenced the final decision to begin regulating exports of five species of sharks an all manta rays, globally.]
Review of Significant Trade (RST) in seahorses
A detailed account of the seahorse journey through RST is available in Foster, S.J. (2016). Seahorses (Hippocampus spp.) and the CITES Review of Significant Trade. Fisheries Centre Research Reports 24(4): 48 pp.
Summary available as CoP17 Inf 53 (https://cites.org/sites/default/files/E-CoP17-Inf-53.pdf)
Other relevant information
- IUCN Red List of Threatened Species: iucnredlist.org– includes summaries of the information used to make the assessment – such as taxonomic notes, geographic range, population information and trends, habitat and ecology, threats, and conservation action.
- IUCN Handbook for species conservation planning
- IUCN Guidelines for Reintroductions and Other Conservation Translocations