Seahorses: The hidden treasure of Mazatlan’s Isla de la Piedra

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The only commercial farm that exists in Mexico.

Mazatlán, Sinaloa.- They look like creatures from another world, but they are in this one and inhabit our oceans, seahorses are one of the most mysterious and unique marine species. Everything indicates that if the necessary measures are not taken, it may not be for long.

Wild seahorses are in danger, they are more than likely at risk of disappearing from our seas and oceans. These unique fish, the syngnathids, are subject to all kinds of excesses, from using their desiccated bodies as decorative objects to crushing them to use as an ingredient in remedies in oriental medicine.

Another threat is the destruction of their habitats; they move very little, they generally live in shallow coastal ecosystems, such as seagrass meadows or macroalgae communities, spaces subject to numerous impacts, so their deterioration or disappearance means the decline and extinction of their populations. 


Faced with this risk, Eliezer Antonio Zúñiga Villarreal, upon finishing his career as a marine biologist at the Autonomous University of Baja California Sur, carried out a thesis project on the commercial cultivation of seahorses, he had always had a special fascination for this live ornamental fish. for fish tanks

He explains that one of the main causes is due to human consumption, mainly in China. There are studies that have been carried out that reveal that in 2000, wild populations on that continent decreased by up to 80 percent and they began to import seahorses to prevent this excessive consumption from affecting to populations of other countries.

It was in 2003 when the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES, for its acronym in English) placed all species of seahorses in its Appendix II, recognizing that they are on the verge of extinction unless control your trade.

In this sense, the signatory countries agreed to strengthen control, granting export permits, only when it is clear that the merchandise does not endanger natural populations.

Despite everything, the illegal extraction and trade of the species continue and, in addition, several countries have decided not to participate in the Convention. “It was decided to include a minimum size to be marketed of 9 centimeters if it is wild and that everything that comes from cultivation can be handled, which Cites asks you to be able to market between countries, you have to demonstrate the legal origin of the organism, it has been varying with time, right now no wild can be marketed only as cultivation, despite the fact that some countries wanted to take advantage of certain nooks and crannies”.

Since he was a child his life has been linked to marine life since his father Eliezer Zúñiga is a marine biologist by profession and when he entered university he already knew that he wanted to dedicate himself to the seahorse.

In mid-2002, when he began registering his farm with Vida Silvestre de Semarnat to obtain official permits, it was not until 2004 that his company Ingens Cultivos Marinos was finally registered.

“It was more than a year of arguing with the government that yes or no, the federal government told me, it’s up to the state, while they told me, we already sent the documents there. Finally, they gave me the authorization, there is a record of several attempts from university laboratories but it is the only commercial one”.

He shares that he acquired land on Isla de la Piedra in Mazatlan and began to work, little by little his facilities have been growing and he has the capacity to produce 20 thousand caballitos per month despite the fact that he has faced many problems such as contamination of the water that is reflected in survival.

HUMAN USES

The seahorse in Mexico is used as live ornamental fish for fish tanks and in the case of China, the use of this marine animal is used in traditional medicine, which has increased consumption alarmingly. It is estimated that around 20 million seahorses are captured each year to be used in traditional medicine since they are attributed healing properties against cancer as well as aphrodisiac properties.

SOME CURIOSITIES

This species is one of the few fish that swims upright, wrapping its curly tail around plants to help fight against the current. Also, instead of scales, it has bony discs under its skin, and instead of a mouth, it uses its long trunk to feed on plankton. But, perhaps, the greatest peculiarity of this species is that it is the males who remain pregnant, carrying the fertilized eggs in a bag located on their belly, with an incubation period of 10 to 20 days depending on the temperature.

There are thousands of hatchlings, but survival in the marine environment is a minimum of 5 to 1 percent, however in the case of farms it is more controlled and is around 50 percent. “The little horse goes out eating and with a lot of activity, it spends its time swimming, it becomes part of the plankton of the organisms that go with the currents, in its first month it spends it swimming, it is a very small animal that is exposed to being It is eaten by any other animal, it is between 6 and 8 millimeters tall and one millimeter thick, it is like a mosquito larva”.

SPECIES AND SIZES

In Mexico there are 4 wild species that can measure up to 30 cm. high, in the Pacific, it is the Hipocampimsen, in the Atlantic, there are 3, Hippocampus reidis is from Mexico to the south, the Hippocampus zosterae is a dwarf horse from the Gulf of Mexico in the north and the last one would be Hippocampus, more common in the country.

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