Seahorse Rare to California Found Near Eelgrass Restoration in Newport Bay

Orange County Coastkeeper says the finding indicates that its program is making the bay healthier

ORANGE COUNTY, May 26, 2016 — On May 7, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife discovered a rare Pacific Seahorse during a monthly survey near an eelgrass restoration site in Upper Newport Bay. Orange County Coastkeeper says the finding is a sign that eelgrass restoration efforts are working and providing homes for both native and visiting species.

“During one of our Marine Life Inventory programs, Fish and Wildlife staff collected a Pacific Seahorse in the Upper Newport Bay Ecological Reserve. The last time this species was found in the Reserve occurred sometime between 1999 and 2000,” said California Department of Fish & Wildlife Education Program Coordinator Robin Madrid in a statement. “It measured about six inches in height, and they can grow up to 12 inches.”

This is only the tenth reported sighting of this species north of Baja since the 1800’s, as its typical range is from Baja, California to Peru and the Galapagos. In 2012, the Pacific Seahorse became classified as vulnerable by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, with its population steadily decreasing since the early 2000s, dropping by 50 percent between 2007 and 2012. The Pacific Seahorse relies exclusively on seagrass beds and coral reefs for its habitat, thus declines in seagrass habitat contribute to the demise of the seahorse, as does capture for traditional medicine and capture for pet trade.

“It’s thrilling to see the seahorse, a species that really needs our help, find its way to our bay and seek refuge in our eelgrass beds,” says Marine Restoration Director Sara Briley. “Though its presence may only be temporary, finding the seahorse in our restored eelgrass bed is very encouraging and showcases the success of our program in returning valuable habitat back to Newport Bay.”

Eelgrass provides an ideal habitat for the Pacific Seahorse because it:

  • Serves as refuge from predation: The seahorse blends almost perfectly within the seagrass habitat, as its thin body shape and similar body coloring make it nearly invisible to all predators but those with the sharpest eye.
  • Serves as a “holdfast”: As weak swimmers, the Pacific Seahorse spends much of its life with its tails wrapped tightly around the blades of the eelgrass to prevent from being dragged away by strong currents.
  • Serves as foraging grounds: As eelgrass attracts many species, both large and small, eelgrass habitat provide a buffet of food sources to hungry seahorses.

Last summer, Coastkeeper’s Eelgrass Restorations Project in Upper Newport Bay successfully reached its goal of planting over 1,000 square meters of eelgrass. With the project now in its fifth year, Coastkeeper is expanding its efforts to restore Newport Bay with more restoration dates, launching its Living Shorelines Project to naturally buffer against sea level rise and partnering with the City of Newport Beach to assist dock owners with eelgrass mitigation.

Click here to learn more about Coastkeeper’s eelgrass restorations or volunteer this summer.


ORANGE COUNTY COASTKEEPER: Orange County Coastkeeper is a member of the International Waterkeeper Alliance, which has 236 different independent programs across 29 countries. Founded in 1999, the mission of Coastkeeper is to protect and promote sustainable water resources that are swimmable, drinkable, and fishable. Coastkeeper is a nonprofit clean water organization that serves as a proactive steward of our fresh- and saltwater ecosystems. We work collaboratively with diverse groups in the public and private sectors to achieve healthy, accessible, and sustainable water resources for the region. We implement innovative, effective programs in education, advocacy, restoration, research, enforcement, and conservation. For more information, visit or call 714-850-1965.