Last year, when I heard that the 8th Indo-Pacific Fish Conference was to be held in Fremantle, West Australia, a plan for a grand science adventure began to take shape. This conference is held only once every 4 to 5 years, and if you are researching fish that are found in the Indian or Pacific oceans, which includes the most diverse coral reef ecosystems anywhere, this is the conference to attend. Since the founding of the Academy’s Seahorse Research & Conservation Program in the Fall of 2006, our group of students, research associates, and staff had made significant progress on using DNA sequence analysis to understand fundamental questions about the taxonomy, evolution, biogeography, and conservation of seahorses and their relatives, the sea dragons, pipehorses, and pipefish. So three of us set out to share our work with our colleagues, and learn from them as well.
In traveling half way around the world to attend this meeting, we find ourselves in southwest Australia, which is a center of diversity for seahorses and their relatives. In fact right around Fremantle is the West Australia seahorse Hippocampus subelongatus, found nowhere else in the world but the southwest corner of this vast island continent. Possessed by this unique and poorly understood group of fishes, four of us set out after the meeting to find seahorses and pipefish in their natural habitats along a 1200km stretch of coastal Western Australia.
- Healy Hamilton, PhD