Nearly 1 000 stranded Knysna seahorses saved

The Knysna seahorse is endangered and has been described as a national treasure.

The hard work of more than 100 Plettenberg Bay residents has led to the saving of just under 1 000 Knysna seahorses on Wednesday.

The seahorses washed up unexpectedly en masse, and the local community immediately jumped into action to save the endangered marine animals.

Petro van Rhyn, general manager of advocacy at CapeNature, said the Knysna seahorse is truly a national treasure.

It is South Africa’s only endemic seahorse and is one of only two endangered seahorse species in the world. Found in only three estuaries, all in the Southern Cape (Knysna, Swartvlei and Keurbooms), the Knysna seahorse is an iconic species for Knysna.

She said CapeNature has immense gratitude for the community and how they came together.

“We did not even ask for help, but the news of the stranded seahorses spread like wildfire on social media and local people, who obviously has a concern for this precious species,” Van Rhyn said.

“The public action was incredible, and it was a great combination of many people showing up and many people showing up at the right time. With this interaction we could find so many more seahorses. We absolutely commend the public and their actions. It was a huge community effort.”

Speaking of the case of the en-masse-wash-up, Van Rhyn explained:  “Due to heavy rains, a flood occurred on Tuesday in the Keurbooms River and the Bitou River and the flood still persisted yesterday [Wednesday] with high water flow. It flushed the seahorses out of the mouth of the river at low tide (spring tide, so bit more of a lower tide than usual). They were stranded yesterday morning [Wednesday] just after low tide.

“The big swell yesterday [Wednesday] also perpetuated the situation and they got washed out the mouth into a current and then the waves deposited them onto the beach. The same phenomena occurred today [yesterday].”

She said as yesterday afternoon 1 004 seahorses were collected of which 706 have thus far been released. Sadly 94 were found dead, but will be kept for research purposes.

“The strong live ones are being put back into the estuary where they naturally occur and where there is a huge eelgrass bed because that’s where they seek refuge and shelter and where they find their food.”

Van Rhyn said it was not an ecological disaster, but a natural occurrence. “In any flood event this would happen. In a big flood, 98% of the population could be wiped out, but luckily this was not a big flood, it was a minor event.”

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