Size: 297mm x 210mm
Original Painting Medium: Gouache
Scientific Name: Hippocampus ramulosus
As children, my sister and I were each given a brooch that consisted of a two inch long dried seahorse with a metal clasp glued to one side. I remember looking at the yellowish, dried body stuck to the pin and being both repulsed and intrigued. I had never seen anything like it before and recall thinking that it didn't look very nice. For the past forty two years the brooch has sat at the bottom of my jewellery box.
As I became more aware of conservation and environmental issues, I wondered how many hundreds of thousands of these beautiful, delicate little sea creatures had died in order to make such grotesque items of jewellery - destined to sit and gather dust at the bottom of old jewellery boxes.
Whilst at art college we were taken on an outing to a local aquarium and given the choice of studying and portraying one of the exhibits. Whilst there I found a tank containing a lone seahorse. Apparently it was an accidental catch and had been brought in by local fishermen after a fishing trip off the Dorset coast. I feel quite strongly that it is wrong to keep any creature in isolation and in captivity and for the same reasons, it seemed very wrong to me that this little seahorse was being kept in total isolation in this small tank. I really wished that he could be returned to his natural environment.
For my Seahorse painting I spent a number of hours observing and sketching the seahorse for my underwater scene.
As seahorses live in shallow waters, my underwater scene includes sea creatures that inhabit the seahorse world: limpets, mussells, acorn barnacles, a brittle star, a prickly cockle, light-bulb sea squirts, beadlet, snakelocks and jewel anemones, a featherstar, and a common starfish.
The final artwork was painted in gouache and Fine Art Prints and Greetings Cards of my Seahorse painting are now available. With each sale a dontation is made to the conservation of Seahorses through the Dorset Wildlife Trust. The DWT are raising funds to be used specifically for this appeal project.
Seagrass meadows are internationally important places for wildlife. Those in Studland Bay, Dorset, are unique in the UK as known breeding sites of both spiny and short-snouted seahorses and may be under threat from boat anchors and chains, which can dislodge and break up the seagrass root system. Studland is one of the most popular anchorages in the south, with up to 300 visiting boats a day during the summer months.
Funds will be used to help find out more about the possible impacts of boating activity on the seahorses' breeding habitats and to let people know about the amazing wildlife that is present literally just off the beach.
The name seahorse is derived from the Greek: Hippos (horse) and campus (sea monster). Seahorses occur mainly in the Indo Pacific and W. Atlantic regions, primarily in mangroves, coral and seagrass habitats; they are also found only occasionally off the southern and western shores of Great Britain.
A seahorse diet consists of fry and small crustaceans, such as brine shrimp. Sucked in through a bony tube-like snout, the larger prey are are broken up by the force of the suction and more easily digested.
Swimming in an upright position they use their dorsal fin for propulsion and ear-like pectoral fins for stabilisation and steering. Having a small home range the seahorse is faithful to its site, using a prehensile tail to cling to a favourite piece of eel grass or coral on the sea bed. Seahorses also have long-term faithful pair bonds and if a mate disappears they are slow to seek a new partner. The only time during the day that the seahorse is particularly lively is at dawn when partners come together in a greeting dance.
When the courtship rituals are about to begin, three to four days before mating, the male develops a pouch on his belly. The female swims in close to the male and they promenade, pirouette and coil about one another, dancing with tails entwined; the full courtship can last up to nine hours. The male finally brings his belly close to that of the female and within seconds she will place her eggs into his pouch. The two then separate and from this moment the female relinquishes any responsiblity for the offspring. Weeks later, the male will start ejecting the miniature adults by wriggles of his body, into the vast blue ocean. Natural predators include tuna, dolphin, crabs and seabirds.
Due to a combination of direct catch, incidental by-catch in trawl nets, pollution and the destruction of habitat, the seahorse population has declined by fifty per cent over the past five years. Forty five nations trade in seahorses and in 1995 alone, 20 million seahorses, (more than 56 tons), were caught for the Chinese medicinal trade, aquariums, and for souveniers and curios. Supply was not keeping pace with demand and local fishermen were no longer able to make a living.
In 1994 Project Seahorse was established. Working in the Central Philippines, in partnership with local communities, the group assisted villagers to establish marine sanctuaries in order to help the local fishermen and seahorses alike. Seahorse fishers became seahorse farmers, controlling the trade of breeding adults and juveniles in order to replenish the wild population.