SEAHORSES are thriving under lockdown with numbers at a 12-year- high in Studland Bay.

Marine conservation charity The Seahorse Trust found 16 seahorses in one dive, including pregnant males and a juvenile which had been born this year.

This is the biggest number since the Trust began monitoring at the site in 2008 and is being attributed to fewer people, less boat traffic and associated noise and anchors in the area.

The Trust is now calling for enforcement of their protected status and of the Studland Bay Marine Conservation Zone.

Prior to 2008, a seahorse had not been seen at the site for two years. This increase is attributed by Trust founder and executive director Neil Garrick-Maidment to the reduction in people, boat traffic and associated noise and anchors in the area due to Covid-related restrictions.

He said: “The ecology of the site has made a remarkable recovery. We have seen so many seahorses because the food chain has recovered, giving seahorses plenty of food to eat, and crucially, somewhere to hide. The seagrass has started to repair itself, and the Spiny Seahorses have taken advantage of this.”

Both of the UK’s native seahorse species – the Spiny and the Short Snouted - gained protected status in 2008 under the Wildlife and Countryside Act following data collection and campaigning by the Seahorse Trust.

After the submission of a proposal for its protection in 2009, and following years of campaigning by the Seahorse Trust and its supporters, Studland Bay was finally designated last year as a Marine Conservation Zone (MCZ) in recognition of the importance of its seagrass habitat and its seahorse population. The legal aim of the MCZ is to return both seagrass and seahorses to ‘favourable conditions’.

Reflecting on the designation, Mr Garrick-Maidment said it is a “tribute to the thousands of Seahorse Trust volunteers and supporters who collected data, campaigned and signed petitions to get the site protected.

“The 16 seahorses discovered on a single dive are an amazing discovery, but we now need the Marine Management Organisation (MMO) and Natural England to enforce the Wildlife and Countryside Act and the Marine Conservation Zone and put in place measures such as environmentally friendly moorings.

“The seahorses need protection to stop them being disturbed again.”