In June of 2012 The Seahorse Trust, Save Our Seahorses Ireland (SOS), Marine Conservation Cambodia (MCC) and the people of Cambodia set up a partnership to preserve and conserve the seahorses and marine environment in Cambodia through conservation and aquaculture.
During the fact finding trip funded by Projects Abroad and MCC we explored the waters of the islands, expanding on MCC’s existing projects, to include behavioural studies of the seahorses in the wild. We also worked with them to set up a captive breeding unit for seahorses in the purpose built aquaculture centre in Sihanoukville on the mainland to replenish the wild stocks that have become rare because of overfishing.
This collaborative project between so many organisations and the people of Cambodia will ensure the long term future not only of seahorses in the region but also other marine life and terrestrial flora and fauna.
A pair of seahorses attached to fine brown algae
Newly born seahorse fry against Paul’s wedding ring
Pictures by Paul Ferber (© 2012)
Marine Conservation Cambodia, supported by Projects Abroad working with the people of Cambodia have been working on Koh Rong Samleom and Koh Rong for a few years now and their work ranges from community based projects, such as setting up and teaching in the schools, beach cleans, running the health centre to micro financing locals projects and businesses.
Due to the combined work of all parties, an area was set up between Koh Rong Samloem and Koh Rong as a Community Fisheries Area (CFA). This area has been devastated in the past by unregulated trawlers from Thailand sweeping through the site taking everything with it. Since the implementation of the CFA the seabed has started to recover and fish species are coming back and larger fish are now starting to be seen. This area is now being put forward as a Site of Conservation Interest (SCI) by the Department of Fisheries Conservation, where only licensed activities can be undertaken.
Originally on the site there were 8 species of seahorse, since the devastation this has now been reduced to two species but very slowly numbers are starting to increase and although as yet there are still 2 species, it is hoped with increased conservation measures and the starting of the aquaculture project then all the 8 species can be reintroduced.
November 2012 survey report
October 2012 survey report
Summary of Seahorse Population and Distribution Aug-Sept 2012
Summary of Seahorse Population and Distribution Nov-Dec 2011
Seahorse Population Assessment June-July 2011
Marine Conservation Cambodia Report of Protection of Seahorses Dec 2007-April2010 2013 first Quarter report
Step one in protecting this unique area was to put in the Community Fisheries Area (CFA) and make sure this has been patrolled to protect it from illegal fishing by Vietnamese fishermen, who come down from Vietnam and devastate not only the fish stocks and seahorses but the habitat as well.
Due to the hard work of everyone involved, this area is now a Site of Conservation Interest (SCI), where only licensed activities can be undertaken, this was designated by the Department Of Fisheries (conservation) after our trip to the islands.
A research study project was put into place at the same time as making it a CFA to check on the condition of the reefs, seabed and seahorses; this has been ongoing for several years now, funded by Projects Abroad volunteers.
With the setting up of the CFA and SCI, the seabed is slowly recovering and it is hoped over the next few years it will return to full health and diversity.
This project is only possible with the support of the local people and this not only provides much needed jobs and incomes; it in turn, lifts people out of poverty and gives a better standard of living. By having the support and working in partnership with the people of Cambodia it will be possible to control long term development for the benefit of everyone concerned.
There are 8 species of seahorses in the area but sadly due to the devastation of the uncontrolled trawling only two are now found in the study area. By combining research with aquaculture it is possible to restore the ecological balance and it is hoped that within a few short years it will be possible to see all 8 species back again into the area.introduced back to the local waters in combination with a habitat restoration scheme.
This amazing picture taken by Paul Ferber MCC founder and CEO shows 2 Hippocampus kuda lying in dead plant debris hiding away. This picture clearly shows how well they camouflage themselves for protection against predators.
(Paul Ferber© 2012)
Seahorses are notoriously susceptible to stress and habitat degradation and with the seabed being so devastated, it is not a surprise, that so many species disappeared. The crucial steps taken so far have mainly removed the threat to the habitat; have gathered much needed data and is trying to restore the site by taking several measures aimed at doing this. The Seahorse Trust with SOS and its partners in the country have designed a series of projects and studies to understand more about the unique behaviour of the seahorses on this site. Everything about these seahorses is unusual from behaviour to association with other species and the site is giving us an opportunity to learn new things about seahorses that have never been recorded in the wild before.
A very spikey looking Hedgehog Seahorse (Hippocampus spinosissimus) living up to its name. In this area seahorses live on Pencil Urchins and by being so spikey the seahorses can hide well.
(Paul Ferber© 2012)
AQUACULTURE - Conservatiion through cultivation
Conservation in the wild needs to be combined with all the tools we can use to maximise the conservation of the species and to do this with the Seahorses in Cambodia we are doing Conservation through cultivation. This concept is not new to endangered species but in Cambodia it is vital to be able to build up numbers of animals for release back to the wild; crucially it has to be done in combination with studies in the wild and the whole idea of the work in Cambodia is to combine all of these elements into one project. The only way to do this is to work in partnership with so many individuals and organisations, maximising the resources available.
In Sihanoukville, the nearest port on the mainland there is a modern aquaculture centre built by JAIKA which is the Japanese aid agency and the project partners have started researching the food cultures needed to cultivate seahorses for reintroduction and it will not be long before seahorses are cultured on the site with the aim to release the first seahorses back into Cambodian waters in 2013.
SAVE OUR SEAHORSES campaign website
Have a look at the Save Our Seahorses campaign website and sign up to the invite to the Chinese people
This collaborative work is being undertaken by so many partners on behalf of, with and for the people of Cambodia.
The Seahorse Trust is bringing its expertise to the project through project development, surveying and cultivation.
Marine Conservation Cambodia
Marine Conservation Cambodia run by Paul Ferber has taken the lead and has set up and has been running the overall project for the last 4 years.
Save Our Seahorses led by Director Kealan Doyle is using its expertise in seahorse cultivation to push the aquaculture project forward and in combination with its partners in The Seahorse trust it is launching a campaign about the traditional medicine trade.
Projects Abroad are funding a lot of the research work on the island by providing opportunities for paying volunteers to take part. (If you want to take part visit their website below)
The Cambodian People
The project is aimed at directly helping the people of Cambodia, restore and improve their environment for the future, which will in turn provide secure food resources and much needed income and without the amazing support from the Government, The Fisheries department, the Royal University in Phnom Penh and the local villagers none of this would be possible. We all hope that by working together we will leave a long lasting legacy for the people of Cambodia.
If you want to get involved in the work in Cambodia then please contact Projects Abroad on
Please find the report for the expedition we helped to organise in Cambodia with Ben and Paul