Posts Tagged 'atlantic'

Thoughtful Thursdays: Chesapeake Bay Lined Seahorses

Many people don’t realize that there is a species of seahorse that calls the Chesapeake Bay its home.  The lined seahorse, hippocampus erectus, lives in shallow eel grass beds during the summer and moves to deeper submerged aquatic vegetation during the winter.  It can typically be found in the lower to middle Chesapeake Bay and, in particularly dry years when the water is saltier, as far north as Kent Island and the Bay Bridge.

Lined Seahorse

Lined Seahorse at National Aquarium, Baltimore
Photo courtesy of Michael Bentley

The lined seahorse varies drastically in both coloration and ornamentation.  Individuals can range from a yellowish color all the way down the spectrum to a nearly black color.  Some may have intricate ornamentation on their backs and their heads.  Additionally, they can change color slightly to match their surroundings.  As with all seahorses, males carry a pouch which they use to hold their young after breeding.  Breeding itself is complicated, it includes a drawn-out ritual of dancing and clicking between the male and female.  At the end of the courtship, females deposit their eggs into the male’s pouch where they are fertilized and held until ready to be released (about 2 weeks).

Lined Seahorse

Lined seahorses vary in color, pattern and ornamentation

Seahorses as a whole are ineffective swimmers.  They only use three of their fins (two pectoral fins and one dorsal fin) to swim.  They beat these fins rapidly to provide propulsion, but it is not enough to keep them stationary in even the most gentle of currents.  It is because of this that they require something to hold on to.  For our local lined seahorses in the Chesapeake, that something is often eel grass, as well as other submerged aquatic vegetation.  These grasses are vital to the seahorses’ ability to hunt, breed and just plain survive.  Seahorses are ambush predators and so they need something to anchor themselves to while hunting.  As they hide, prehensile tails attached to the eel grass, they wait for prey to float by their snouts.

lined seahorse

Lined seahorses have very small fins, making it hard for them to swim.

Unfortunately, eel grass is in trouble in the Chesapeake Bay.  Nutrient pollution from farms, sewage and other human activities often leads to large algal blooms, which grow near the surface of the water and block light that the grasses need to grow. Additionally, destructive fishing techniques like bottom trawling can rip up huge swaths of submerged aquatic vegetation, causing wide-spread loss of habitat.  Because they are so specialized in their habitat needs, lined seahorses have little hope of successfully hunting and breeding without the grasses.  These pressures are threatening seahorses worldwide. As a result of these and other conservation pressures, it is estimated that the world’s lined seahorse population has declined by at least 30 percent in the past 10 years. We must begin to take steps to preserve the local habitat, or we risk losing this very interesting and important Chesapeake Bay species.

What you can do to help:  Reduce waste runoff, which pollutes waters like the Chesapeake Bay.  

  • Control insects using natural controls instead of pesticides. Americans directly apply 70 million pounds of pesticides to home lawns and gardens each year and, in so doing, kill birds and other wildlife and pollute our precious water resources.
  • Dispose of motor oil and anti-freeze through a local service station or recycling center. A one-quart container of oil disposed of at the local landfill can contaminate up to 2 million gallons of drinking water and the water home of our seahorse friends.
  • Don’t pour anything down storm drains because they lead to the bay, which connects to the ocean. Most sewer systems and wastewater treatment plants do not remove poisonous cleaners, and yard and car-wash chemicals make their way into local waterways, and, eventually, into our ocean, harming animals along the way. You wouldn’t want to swim in those chemicals, and neither do animals!
  • Learn more!
    To find out more about the lined seahorse and the troubles threatening them in our area, listen to this special seahorse edition of WYPR’s Environment in Focus with Tom Pelton

Thoughtful Thursdays: Catch Crabs, Not Terrapins

Save the Terrapins

Crab feasts are a summertime tradition here in Maryland. There’s nothing like gathering around a picnic table with family and friends to spend time together, eating, drinking and picking crabs!

With Memorial Day Weekend marking the opening of Maryland’s crab feast season, the National Aquarium and the Maryland Department of Natural Resources want to remind recreational crab pot owners to obey the law and by doing so, to help save the Maryland State reptile, the diamondback terrapin.

The diamondback terrapin lives exclusively in the tidal salt marshes of the Chesapeake Bay and Atlantic coastal marshes. This brackish-water habitat is also home to the blue crab.

Each year recreational crab pots unnecessarily claim the lives of terrapins. Terrapins are lured into crab pots by the same baits used to attract blue crabs. However, unlike blue crabs, terrapins must rise periodically to the surface for a breath of air. Terrapins trapped in a fully submerged crab pot will eventually die from drowning.

Waterfront property owners are legally allowed to crab with a maximum of two recreational crab pots. Maryland regulation requires that each entrance funnel of all recreational crab pots must be equipped with a with a turtle excluder called a Bycatch Reduction Device (BRD). A BRD is a gate that allows crabs to enter the pot, but keeps the larger-shelled terrapins out.

A BRD will prevent almost all terrapins from entering a crab pot.

Recreational crabbers can purchase BRDs where crab pots are sold, and some retailers sell pots that already have the device installed.

Bycatch Reduction Devices

Metal and plastic BRDs

If you are unable to locate BRDs, contact the National Aquarium Conservation Department at conserve@aqua.org.

Installing a Bycatch Reduction Device


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