Code of conduct for diving with and photographing Pygmy Seahorses
Based on the research I carried out during my PhD studies I have created a Code of Conduct for diving with and photographing pygmy seahorses. It was peer-reviewed by independent academic experts through the PhD examination process. The Code of Conduct is intended to be printed, emailed and talked about as much as possible so please feel free to download it (follow download links on this page) and send it off to anyone you think may benefit or be interested. Maybe take a copy with you on your next dive trip for the dive centre to stick on their wall!
For anyone who has been lucky enough to see these diminutive fish for themselves, they will agree, they are the true celebrities of south east Asia’s coral reefs. Their popularity also brings with it great risk. Unfortunately, when care is not taken to observe and photograph them, the delicate seahorses and their seafan home can easily be damaged or killed by poor diver practices. Luckily, following surveys of several hundred divers, I found that they overwhelmingly support a Code of Conduct to protect pygmy seahorses. By avoiding just a few specific actions, we can significantly reduce disturbance of the seahorses.
Summary of Code of Conduct:
1. Do Not Touch Pygmy Seahorses
2. Do Not Touch their Gorgonian home
3. Do Not Use a Torch/Flashlight
4. Five Photo Limit per Diver
5. No Artificial Light for Video
6. No Night Diving with Pygmy Seahorses
7. Beware of the Surrounding Environment
Background to the Code of Conduct:
I spent many hundreds of hours observing natural pygmy seahorse behaviour, but also the interactions between divers and seahorses. I found that certain actions by divers cause stress to these miniature fish, which can have major implications for their health, reproduction and even survival.
Pygmies also have many other threats to contend with, such as destruction of their coral reef habitat and their reliance on healthy seafans for survival. During my population estimates I found that they have the lowest population densities of any unexploited seahorse yet studied. Their reliance on seafans means that they can easily be protected within marine protected areas, however these areas are exactly those that are frequented by divers. Thus the aim of this Code of Conduct is to minimise the impact divers have on seahorse populations.
The seafan (gorgonian) home of the seahorses is also hugely susceptible to damage. Seafans are very delicate and slow growing, with large seafans easily reaching 100 years of age. Sadly, when they come into contact with the equipment, camera or bubbles of divers they can be damaged to such an extend that they are no longer inhabitable by seahorses. Pygmy seahorses require a healthy, living seafan where they spend their entire adult life on a single seafan, meaning that if the seafan dies so do the seahorses.
The Code of Conduct can be downloaded from this page and if you wish to read more about pygmy seahorses please check out my Pygmy Seahorse Research Blogs. The Code of Conduct is currently available to download in English, French, German, Italian, Indonesian, Chinese and Japanese (pdf downloads above right).
I would like to thank Wakatobi Dive Resort, Walea Dive Resort and Murex Dive for their support during the research phase of this work, Mean Mora for the hilarious drawings on the Code and Madeleine Webb for the Code’s design.