Sri Lanka still a hub for seahorse trade?


The 60kg of dried seahorses that two Chinese were attempting to smuggle out of Sri Lanka last week were intended to satisfy the myth of aphrodisiacal benefits that seals the fate of 150 million wild seahorses a year globally. The species cannot sustain such a casualty toll, conservationists say. The hundreds of slaughtered seahorses were concealed in the baggage of two Chinese nationals bound for Shanghai from Bandaranaike International Airport and were valued at Rs. 2.3 million. After a Customs inquiry the culprits were fined Rs. 50,000 each.

Customs media spokesman Leslie Gamini said this was one of the largest consignments of seahorses being smuggled through the airport although there had been foiled attempts to send larger consignments by sea. Seahorses have horse-like heads, monkey-like tails that can be used to grasp sea grass to anchor themselves, eyes that can independently move like those of chameleons and a kangaroo-like pouch that acts as a womb, helping the male to gestate eggs deposited by the female. They are, however, a species of fish that breathes through gills, and can range in size from 2cm to 30cm depending on the species.

There are four species found in Sri Lankan waters and potential for the presence of more, said researcher Nishan Perera.He said the seas in the north and north-west are preferred habitats given the areas’ shallow, calm waters with rubble and seagrass habitats. Seahorses face a threat in Sri Lanka because they are caught as by-catch and because their habitat, the seagrass beds in shallow areas, is mostly being destroyed. Even worse, seahorses are very sensitive to environmental changes, so pollution that first hits the shallow seas around the coast can adversely affect them.

Mr. Samantha Gunasekera, who established the Customs Biodiversity Protection Unit, said because India banned seahorse fishery some years ago dried seahorses caught there are smuggled into Sri Lanka by sea and re-exported because there was weaker protection in this country for these creatures.

Mr. Gunasekara said he suspects the consignment caught last week could consist of seahorses from India considering their bigger size; the same species found in Sri Lankan waters are smaller.

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Seahorses make perfect husbands
Many seahorse species pair for life and the male seahorse could be the ideal husband every wife dreams of as it takes over the trouble of pregnancy from the female.At breeding time, the female transfers its eggs to the male, which self-fertilises them in its pouch. The pouch acts like a womb where the eggs receive everything from oxygen to food while removing waste.After gestation, the male seahorse goes into labour, pumping and thrusting. This can be a long process with contractions sometimes lasting up to 12 hours.

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