Walt Haas – a saltwater tank aficionado for 50 years – discovered his passion for saltwater during his childhood summers scuba diving, collecting fish, and taking underwater photos at Westhampton Beach in New York’s Long Island.
In 2011, he saw his first live seahorses in a friend’s tank.
“I was immediately drawn to them, not only for their beauty, but because they fit in with my love of shallow water and my interest in restoring our local seagrass,” he said.
Their habitat is the nursery for all the fishes we enjoy.
“If we clean up our local seagrass, shore grass and oyster beds, we will increase the number of fish our commercial and sport fisherman can catch,” Walt said.
It all boils down to this, he said: “When local seahorse habitats are healthy, so are we.”
Brooke Haas is a student at Old Dominion University and is studying marine biology with an emphasis on oceanography. Like her Uncle Walt, Brooke spent summers and weekends on and around the water – in her case, along the shores of the Potomac River.
“I’m so intrigued by how everything we see on land is so different than what is underwater,” Brooke said. “And the smallest members of the food chain end up being so important because they create the basis of the ecosystem.”
Brooke, with her knowledge and enthusiasm, helps the Conservancy’s information needs by accessing academic journals, research papers and interviewing marine experts.
“I’m so honored to be a part of this,” she said. “My uncle and my parents’ passion influenced me so much. It’s amazing to think that helping the habitat of one little organism like a seahorse can make a dramatic difference to our waters.”
Brittany Shamenek is the staff biologist for the Conservancy. A published author, she has a bachelor’s in environmental and conservation biology from George Mason University
Brittany, who has conducted research in Hawaii on coral reefs, plans to continue her education by pursuing a master’s in environmental policy or research.
An enthusiastic and tireless conservationist, Brittany also works with Reef Escape in Fairfax, VA as an aquarium service technician. As an educator, she serves as a local environmental subject matter expert, teaching outdoor field courses to middle schools. In addition, she volunteers at the National Zoo and the National Aquarium.
As a biologist, she educates the Conservancy staff on the state of current seahorse research and helps us plan and develop future research projects. She also educates the public about seahorses in captivity and their conservation issues.
“One of our big hopes is that there will be less demand for wild-caught seahorses if there are plenty of captive bred,” Brittany says.
She points out that the Conservancy’s work is very unique, very time-consuming and very valuable.
“This breeding operation is a great concept – I’d like to see it replicated across the globe. The more people concerned with conservation, the better.”
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