Tiny seahorse under threat after oil spill

One of the world's smallest seahorses is under threat of extinction in the wake of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill disaster, conservationists have warned.

One of the world's smallest seahorses is under threat of extinction in the wake of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill disaster, conservationists have warned.

The dwarf seahorse, which is less than one inch (2.5cm) long, is found only in waters off the Gulf Coast, and much of its habitat was destroyed by the spill.

Scientists are also worried that the clean-up process could further hit populations of the tiny creature and other wildlife.

Conservation experts from the Zoological Society of London's (ZSL) project seahorse team are urging BP to minimise use of chemical dispersants and oil burning during the clean-up process.

Dwarf seahorses produce few young and are vulnerable to environmental change as a result.

The spill exposed them to high levels of oil toxins and destroyed their habitat.

The burning of oil caught in seagrass mats floating offshore - which some seahorses make their home - is killing marine animals and depriving others of habitat or exposing them to further toxins, the experts warned.

Dr Heather Koldewey, ZSL's programme manager for the international marine and freshwater conservation programme, says: "Seagrass is vital to the long-term health of coastal ecosystems, sheltering marine animals, acting as fish nurseries, improving water quality, and preventing erosion.

"In extreme cases where seahorses are at high risk of poisoning such as this one, seagrass mats and beds can be cut to reduce toxic exposure.

"However, we are urging BP to continue to use booms in the clean-up to isolate the oil slicks.

"These can be skimmed, left to evaporate, or treated with biological agents like fertilisers, which promote the growth of micro-organisms that biodegrade oil."

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