Couple's sea-horse farm aims
to save the endangered animals
Hawaii — Marine biologist Carol Cozzi-Schmarr's business is
saving some of the planet's most exotic small sea creatures.
In 1998 she andk her husband, Craig Schmarr, left
shrimp-hatchery jobs in Florida and used a small-business loan
to establish the only sea-horse farm in the country.
Now they have 40 huge royal- blue tanks teeming with the
colorful marine animals that have a far better chance of
survival in captivity than in the open ocean and sell for up to
Male sea horses bear the young, and strictly monogamous
sea-horse couples can have up to 1,800 offspring in a brood. Yet
sea horses are disappearing from the world's oceans.
"This is a labor of love and is not making lots of money, but
we're kind of trying to do something a little different," said
She views the delicate little animals on her water farm as pets,
saying some of them seem to recognize her touch.
Hawaii's sea-horse woman completed her graduate work at San
Diego State University and had been raising shrimp in Latin
America. In Ecuador she met and married fellow biologist Schmarr.
For more than a decade, they watched helplessly as the pristine
coastal areas along the Pacific Ocean and Gulf of Mexico were
trampled, with more and more people moving in and fishing
"That's what made us want to inspire others to care about the
ocean environments," she said.
So they moved to Hawaii and established Ocean Riders Seahorse
Farm on the Kona Coast of Hawaii's Big Island.
"We really wanted to do something for ourselves, rather than
work for a big corporation," Cozzi-Schmarr said. "And Kona was
always the place to be for me. … We had a lot of expertise
between us and a lot of ideas, but not a lot of money."
The Natural Energy Laboratory of Hawaii Authority was the
answer. The state-sponsored aquaculture facility offered a
streamlined permit process and ready access to the cool, clear
waters of the Pacific Ocean. The couple obtained a Small
Business Administration loan and got to work on a 3-acre
Seven years later, their sea-horse farm is raising thousands of
the endangered creatures, which live an average of eight years.
The farm's broods have a survival rate of up to 80 percent,
compared with perhaps a 0.1 percent survival rate in the wild,
"People don't believe they are real, but they just seem like
they are so cool, so intelligent, so enchanting," Cozzi-Schmarr
said of a fascination that dates to childhood.
"They have character. They don't mind us touching them, and
there seems to be some recognition there. They know when it's
time to eat, that's for sure," she said.
Ranging from less than an inch to more than a foot long, sea
horses have prehensile tails to hook onto underwater vegetation;
protective, bony plates in their skin; and a tubelike mouth for
sucking in crustaceans.
Cozzi-Schmarr is determined to use interest in sea horses to
spread awareness of the human impact on ocean environments.
"We need to start early to teach conservation to all children,"
To Checkout the Farm: