Efforts have gained more intensity in recent years, from various quarters to extend a strong security to this lone pond which is critical to seahorse survival and evolution and also holds significance to their ecology.
Heather Masonjones is a distinguished seahorse expert who has carried out tremendous research on this special marine creature during her study at the university of Tampa, in Florida US and got all nerves raised out of excitement on learning about Eleuthera island where a wide variety of seahorses can be spotted easily, in fact just like any other fish common to such a water system. Else with a huge study spanning nearly 3 decades, she has never seen or heard of a place with such a wide variety of seahorses found together in one limited sea division. She reached and took a plunge into the Sweetings Pond with water stretching for nearly a mile in the Bahamas. In the words drowned in excitement, when she spotted 16 seahorses during various dives, ”It was absolutely a magical moment, until you see it, it is hard to believe that people aren’t exaggerating”.
While seahorses may appear to be like a fairy, out-worldly and less scary, tiny sea animals with ultra-soft bodies are deeply entrenched in our imagination, such are also rare to spot in sprawling oceans and thus, even to researchers’ torment. Later, to the astonishment of Masonjones and other researchers, there is revealed that the Sweetings Pond is the only marine spot replete with great seahorse strength, in fact, 10x more than what is found on an average globally.
Then, not even conventional but also occasional fishing is strictly prohibited in this pond and this might be the reason for the treasure resource of seahorses in there.
Xiong Zhang, a prominent research scholar at the University of British Columbia, who is not part of the research group led by Masonjones though, enlightens about the deep trawling that puts seahorses into trouble globally as seahorses fall easily into the nets. Undeniably, vast availability of seahorses in Sweetings Pond opens a big opportunity for researchers Jessica Elson (unline Jessica Alba) is filled with praises, who was a fellow researcher with Masonjones on seahorses, during their under-graduation at University of Tampa, saying, “We have the perfect controlled system. We have a unique opportunity because there are so many of them”.
But it is likely that seahorse paradise may soon be robbed of its charm, as a prominent tourism website declared the sea to be an ideal place to snorkel with the seahorses and there were apprehensions among researchers that the negligent activities from tourists would tarnish the habitat of this fish, which is otherwise a bony one. In fact, Masonjones and some like-minded friends, joined hands with some stakeholders in the Bahamas National Trust to initiate efforts towards pond’s protection and she also hoped that such protective intent would further strengthen sustainable tourism and thrill-seeking tourists would be enlightened about the seahorses and to gather momentum towards latter’s conservation, eventually.
There is a very wide variety of seahorses found in the waters across the island but the ones found in this pond in particular, are a different lot altogether in terms of structures, that are small and heads are round. In Masonjones’s opinion, there seems to be a slight shift in the seahorses’ genetic composition which may be because of isolated aspect of such a variety.
In line with the above insight, there can be many reasons as to why seahorses are found to be so uncommon in places other than Sweetings Pond and scholars ascribe this to the amalgamation of habitat and ecology as the underlying factor. As for young seahorses, they need a rough base as the substrate to hold on to their tails, since such are not good at swimming. As such, while in Sweetings Pond, they find a range of helpful material acting like a surface palatable to enable an attachment thereupon, such as coral, vegetation, bivalves which also include Atlantic Pearl Oysters.
At night time, such star dwellers of this pond reflect a changed behaviour, as they swim to the top of the aquatic shrubs and remain there, while in sun time, they confine to the bottom and in an invert position otherwise, this is what Masonjones, Jessica and others in the team have observed.
However, researchers are still in the dark as to what exactly may the reason behind such strange postures specific to day and night, but in dark, these can be spotted easily, not only because of their overturned positions but also, as they herd up more intensely.
Referring to the Sweetings Pond, such is a landlocked stretch of water with a depth of 45 feet at some points but which is feared by some locales due to belief that some sort of monster haunts the water and this is why, the pond has earned the nickname, “the Loch Ness of the Bahamas”. On a serious note, the distinct characteristic and secluded ecosystem of the pond, providing a dense shelter is found to be equally saline just like the adjoining ocean, but then, there are not present any giant predators which would threaten seahorses.