SEAHORSES have disappeared from Studland Bay as pressure to make the area a Marine Conservation Zone mounts.

Disappointed representatives of The Seahorse Trust have recorded just one dead Spiny Seahorse washed up on the beach this year.

Only one live Seahorse was seen in the bay last year and the Trust’s Executive Director Neil Garrick-Maidment said drastic action is needed to reverse damage to their habitat.

The Trust’s study in the bay started in 2008 when there were 40 Seahorses at the site.

All were carefully logged with photo ID revealing individual markings on their heads. The markings are as individual as fingerprints, ensuring an accurate count.

The creatures live in Seagrass which has been badly damaged by the anchors of boats at the site.

But Mr Garrick-Maidment said there is no need to stop boats using the site.

He told the Daily Echo: “From 2008 onwards we have noticed a decline in numbers and the reason is simple. Over-use of boats on the site has fragmented the Seagrass so the whole eco-system is breaking down.

“It should be thriving and vibrant but it is now a bit of a desert. The food chain has broken down so the Seahorses are unable to stay in the area.”

He said many live off the coast of Dorset in deeper waters but they prefer shallow waters if the Seagrass is available to them.

“I have no doubt that they would return and it would also increase the economic benefit to the area because eco-tourism is worth millions of pounds” he added.

“Environmentally-friendly moorings could be put in for boats so that anchors don’t have to drag along the seabed and it would also be nice if people would stop dropping rubbish there.”

A decision as to whether the area will become a Marine Conservation Zone is due within the next few months.

The disappearance of the Seahorses was one of a number of issues raised in a Wildlife Special episode of the BBC’s Countryfile which examined the loss of habitat of a number of creatures in the UK.