Knysna is famous for its oysters, amazing cycle routes and the seahorse. The Knysna seahorse, probably the most iconic inhabitant of the Knysna Estuary, is South Africa’s only endemic seahorse species and can only be found in the Knysna, Swartvlei and Keurbooms Estuaries. It is this limited range, small population and habitat vulnerability that resulted in this species endangered status on the IUCN Red Data List of Vulnerable Species. It is in fact the only seahorse species in the world to be listed as endangered.
It is believed that seahorses are between 46 000 and 186 000 years old. The Knysna seahorse is relatively small compared to other seahorse species – with an average length of 7 cm. The body, covered by hard bony plates, is smooth and mottled green or brown in colour. They can be found holding on to seagrass in the lagoon – where they constantly feed on small crustaceans. It is only seahorses and pipefish, from the Syngnathid family, where the male carries and gives birth to the young. Many seahorse species are also monogamous and are known to take part in elaborate courtship greetings on a daily basis.
The Knysna Seahorse Status (KySS) project (part of the Knysna Basin Project) was launched in 2014, the first research project on this species since 2003. The overarching aim of the project was to establish the current status of the seahorse population within the Knysna Estuary – with specific focus on the effect of Thesen Islands Marina on the abundance and distribution of this species.
Our findings thus far suggest that Thesen Islands Marina act as a kind of refuge for the Knysna seahorse – evident from the continuous high seahorse densities found within the marina canals – particularly on artificial habitat (Reno mattresses – wire cages filled with rocks). It seems as if the Knysna seahorse is able to adapt to additions to its natural environment – but long term monitoring of the population is needed to establish if the seahorses are thriving in their new home, or merely surviving.
The Knysna Estuary is not only at risk from development but also from increased use – especially during holidays. This includes fishing, boating and the pressure placed on our town’s infrastructure. It is the aim of the Knysna Basin Project to promote the conservation of this beautiful estuary through ongoing research, monitoring and education. The project has a number of research endeavours under its belt, which include water quality research, biodiversity assessments and of course the Knysna seahorse project. Findings from our research projects and ongoing monitoring are used to assist those responsible for the management and conservation of the estuary.
We are also passionate about education and empowering those that depend on the estuary through knowledge. Local groups are introduced to the estuary through exploratory outings on the mudflats where they are able to meet all the amazing critters that live on their doorstep - which helps them realise the importance of protecting the estuary. Additionally, focus is placed on marine litter by hosting a number of clean-up events during the year – join us during next year’s Oyster Festival for our second Artful Waste Challenge!
We hope to launch a number of new and exciting project in 2017, as well as continue with old favorites such as the seahorse project! To do this we rely on funding from the community, far and wide, so that we can keep our heads above (and below) water.
To find out more about the Knysna Basin Project or to donate please visit our website at www.knysnabasinproject.co.za or join us on Facebook www.facebook.com/knysna.basin.project. Be part of the change and join us in making a difference in Knysna!