The project of breeding and the reintroduction of sea horses into the gulf of Eilat.
Sea horses in the gulf of Eilat are in danger of extinction.
Sea horses belong to the Hippocampus family characterized by a hard body and a long mouth similar to an oboe. Their name was given to them as their heads looks similar to that of a horse, but here the similarity ends.
In comparison to the power and speed of a horse, the sea horse is a weak creature and the slowest swimmer in the sea. Only by camouflage can it cope with the dangers that surround it. The camouflage of the sea horse is nearly perfect and even the sharpest eyes amongst the predators have difficulty spotting and hunting it. The sea horse lives in the depths of rich marine vegetation that surround the coral reefs. (This vegetation is disappearing, and with it, the sea horses.) With its tail it holds onto the vegetation and feeds on plankton.
The most interesting thing about the sea horse is its breeding process. The male has an external brood pouch on its stomach and after a long period of courtship he swims with great show and expands his brood pouch. The female injects her eggs with a laying tube into the pouch and the process of fertilization takes place, he is pregnant!!!
At the end of a fortnight the male spawns 100-400 young sea horses. For the first few days the young sea horses spend their time on the surface of the water, while they are delicate and weak. During the first few months of their lives they are carried by the ocean currents without the ability to sink to the sea floor and camouflage themselves. During this stage of their lives, most fall prey to predators.
We at the underwater marine observatory are aware of their vulnerability at this early stage and because sea horses are in danger of extinction in the gulf of Eilat, we decided on a breeding project to grow young sea horses in a separate aquarium until they are old and strong enough to drop to the marine vegetation. We therefore increase their chances of survival.
Sea horses only feed on live food of tiny shrimp called Artemia. These are rich in protein and fats. The work of feeding them is delicate and complex and divers feed the sea horses about five times a day. On a diet of rich food and in special containers we have succeeded in breeding sea horses to an age when they can drop to the sea floor to find their food.
At this age we also add marine vegetation so they can adjust their colour to that of the vegetation, so that on release they will immediately be able to acclimatize to the natural marine environment.
To release the sea horses, a team of divers from the Underwater Marine Observatory, take jars containing tens of sea horses onto the coral reef reserve in Eilat and at a depth of about 20 meters the team search out thick marine vegetation and they release the sea horses into the open sea.
The project of breeding and reintroduction of sea turtles
Sea turtles are in danger of extinction in the Red Sea and in the entire world. They are reptiles with lungs and need to surface in order to breathe. Turtles are often trapped in fishing nets and so cannot surface to breathe and then drown. The main reason for their demise is plastic bags. The Hawksbill Turtle is the most common in the Red Sea and feeds mainly on sponges and mollusks. Jelly fish are part of its diet. Plastic bags that drift in the sea look like jelly fish to the turtles and they eat them and choke. Some swallow the bag that then swells in the stomach and gives them a feeling of satiation. The turtles then die of starvation on a “full stomach” of bags.
In light of these facts, the Underwater Marine Observatory has began a project of breeding and then reintroducing them back into nature.
In the spring our male called “Breeder” fertilizes the female and two months later the female exits onto a sand island in the center of the pool which is used as an area for egg laying. There they dig a hole with their back limbs and lay between 30 to 80 eggs in it. After laying the eggs, the female covers the hole with sand and returns to the sea. The sand and the sun are a natural incubator for the eggs. In a few weeks (about two months) the eggs hatch and little turtles the size of matchboxes and weighing only 15 grams emerge. At this stage, nearly all living creatures can eat them. In nature they run towards the foam of the waves and are preyed upon by birds, crabs and larger fish. Only one in a thousand will grow to adulthood in nature.
At the Underwater Marine Observatory we collect the turtles when they hatch and grow them in pools “out of sight”.
Every turtle gets three meals a day (fed using tweezers) and regular measuring and weighing. We grow them like this for about a year and then move them to a “crèche” pool (adjacent to the adult’s pool) and then at the age of two to the “kindergarten” in the turtle pool.
At the age of three, when and their shells are solid and they are strong enough, we release them into the open sea in the Red Sea Gulf and their chances of survival in nature is fair.
The Underwater Marine Observatory in Eilat is the first place in the world where this species has been bred successfully in captivity. This success stems from the knowledge of the environmental conditions and the implication of this in all stages of the breeding of these turtles.