Protecting seahorses

By: Maria Simiris

Working to raise awareness for this environmental problem, artist Bordalo II sculpted two giant seahorses with urban waste in Faro

The two large-scale pieces use different techniques and were placed in the water tank of the Praia Camping Park and Gambelas campus of the University of the Algarve (UAlg), in April. They are part of the scientific project HIPPOSAVE, of the Centre for Marine Sciences (CCMAR), of the Algarve academy, one of the main research centres in marine sciences in Portugal, which brings together specialists in various areas of marine biology.

The scientific project, which began in 2020, has as its action plan the safeguarding and recovery of the seahorse populations of the Ria Formosa, a place that in 2001 counted the world’s largest population of that species. “Above all, the sculptures represent the need to preserve this animal. The extinction of this species would be extremely grave for the Ria Formosa, for Portugal and the world in general. We hope to raise awareness with these permanent fixtures,” said Jorge Palma, CCMAR researcher, during the inauguration of the sculptures.

The giant art pieces were created using mainly metal, plastic, and wooden waste, and after being welded and painted, they were installed at two points in the Algarve capital.

Faro mayor Rogério Bacalhau explained that they are “emblematic works that call attention to what [he sees] as the greatest jewel of the borough of Faro and the Algarve, the Ria Formosa”. In addition, “the materials used in these pieces also raise awareness to recycling, to unregulated consumption, to the environment and even to urban art. These will be iconic pieces”, he said.

“More than the aesthetic beauty, what is represented here is our commitment to life, biodiversity and sustainability. I hope students will be inspired by this work and enjoy it,” stated Paulo Águas, Rector of UAlg. “The university is closely linked to the Ria Formosa, and it is in our academy that we seek to develop a set of activities that can also lead to the preservation of this animal.”

Speaking of his work, Artur Bordalo, known in the world of urban art as Bordalo II, said: “It is important, in my opinion, that when you make an artistic intervention, you convey on a message in an active way. In this case, it is a call for attention to endangered species and the destruction of natural heritage.”

The artist, who has sculptural works in four continents, specifically addressed the seahorse on display at the Gambelas campus. “Being able to make a piece inside a University is very important to me, because it is the cradle of education and culture. I think that schools really must be the basis of a sustainable society so that people take care of the environment and the planet. That’s what we are talking about here, the conservation of an animal that symbolises the preservation of the world and species as a whole.” Jorge Palma also revealed a bit of news:

“These two pieces are united by their symbolism and not only that, because in the future a pedestrian trail will connect the adjacent area of the Ria with the area of the Ludo promenade. On this route, we will post informative plaques explaining the biology of the seahorse.”

In the words of the head of the HIPPOSAVE scientific project, “public engagement is also important, because only with researchers and the community will we be able to protect this species and avoid what is on the horizon: the extinction of the seahorse in Ria Formosa”. According to CCMAR, the Ria Formosa is home to two seahorse species: the longspine seahorse and the common seahorse. The greatest threats to these species are accidental capture, climate change, habitat degradation and illegal fishing for export.

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