Featured Image Credit: lecates via Wikipedia Commons
By Jessica Kittel
If you’ve never seen the amazing-ness that is the weedy sea dragon, you are in for a treat.
Debatably one of the coolest looking animals on this planet, sea dragons are equipped with foliage-shaped appendages that allow them to conveniently blend into their seaweed and kelp environment. There are two varieties of sea dragons: the leafy and the weedy. Both types are endemic to Australia and bear many similarities to their sea horse and pipefish cousins.
Scientists are particularly concerned about the weedy sea dragons (affectionately known as “weedies”). Pollution and habitat loss have led to a decrease in their population numbers and, while currently listed as near threatened, scientists are worried that they might need to be reclassified as endangered.
Divers visiting sites that have traditionally been known as havens for weedy residents are returning without even a single sighting. Even “Dragon Alley” is lacking in its namesake species.
“They are iconic and they’re endemic,” says Dr. Selma Klanten, “Once they’re gone, they’re gone. And once we lose them, we will never get them back.”
Dr. Klanten is undertaking a two-year study that will focus on the weedies and will use a program similar to facial recognition software to keep track of individuals. With the assistance of experienced SCUBA divers and citizen scientists, Dr. Klanten will use photos of the fish to identify individual weedy sea dragons based on the markings on their sides. Using this photo-based, non-invasive approach is ideal. It takes away the need to put tags on the animals, or even handle them at all.
Video Credit: ABC News