The Poema del Mar Aquarium in Gran Canaria is a centre of scientific interest because it is the first centre in Europe to have succeeded in breeding 24 sea dragons, a special Australian species, born in April and July this year. This event is of great importance for research and science.
As was reported in good time, 24 sea dragons from two different clutches of this species, a related species to seahorses, were born in the aquarium's facilities, thanks to the care of experts and the excellent facilities available to them.
The aquarium is still closed due to the sanitary regulations due to Covid-19 and experienced the first eggs on April 28 with the birth of the babies last June and the second on July 21. Although they are currently only a few centimetres in size, they are growing up quickly in their new home.
Sea dragons are particularly sensitive to pollution of the sea, the presence of micro-plastics in the waters and the increase in temperature resulting from global warming, as they live in very specific conditions and in a small habitat whose destruction would have fatal consequences.
These animals live in a very specific area of southern Australia and require very specific conditions in terms of temperature, habitat, food and sensitivity. Sea dragons are very sensitive to changes, to light, noise and vibrations, which can affect them considerably.
GREAT NEWS FOR THE AQUARIUM, THE ISLAND AND THE SPECIES
As Alvaro Albela, the person in charge of the sea dragons and the saltwater area of the Poema del Mar, explained, they experienced this offspring as "great news", not only for the aquarium, but also for the island and the species, because "it was very difficult to achieve this".
It was therefore "very moving and rewarding" for the whole team and "a great reward for several years of work". The Poema del Mar's commitment to these sea dragons was clear from the very beginning, and a special tank was created for the welfare of this species when the facility was built, so that it could reproduce in Gran Canaria.
This tank is over three metres high, although sea dragons normally live in the seabed and only ascend for their courtship dance, a dance in which the female passes the eggs to the tail of the male through movements in which they rise intertwined from the seabed to the surface.
In addition, the aquarium has its own cultivation of the mysida on which these animals feed, the official marine emblem of South Australia, and which usually eat plankton, small crustaceans such as amphipods, mysid shrimp (Mysis) and larval fish (fish larvae), among others.
This new generation of sea dragons born on the island is fed with care and affection with pipettes, selecting one by one these mysida that they take as food to adapt the size to the growth of the small ones.
As Albela has acknowledged, the seven employees of this area lived this moment with great enthusiasm, because somehow sea dragons are "pampered children" in the Poema del Mar because of the animal's sensitivity and its particularities.
The sea dragon is unique in its species, just like the seahorse, which belongs to the Syngnathidae family, and it is the males who look after the eggs, something that takes place after a very special dance, usually in spring.
The fact that they have had babies and that they are growing up healthy in Poema del Mar is a sign that "they feel very comfortable" in the Gran Canaria aquarium, something that Albela and the team have been working on in detail since 2017 and which has not been achieved in any aquarium in Europe.
In a few months, when the little ones born in the month of June reach the right size, they will be able to move into the main tank, on display for visitors.
Their colours, which range from yellow to blue, red and violet with dots and stripes along their bodies, their strange physique which makes them look like mythical dragons, their particular shape which allows them to camouflage themselves between the algae in which they live, and the tranquillity conveyed by their floating way of moving are just some of the reasons why visitors are fascinated by them.
"Those who know this species and know how difficult it is to see them in an aquarium," said the responsible person, "will be impressed."
GRAN CANARIA HAS THE LARGEST COLLECTION OF THESE ANIMALS IN THE COUNTRY, WITH EIGHT ADULT SPECIMENS
Sea dragons (Phylloptery x taeniolatus) are a species that is particularly sensitive to environmental factors, protected because of its vulnerability and extreme peculiarity, which makes it a type of seahorse that is very difficult to breed in captivity.
In Spain they can only be seen in the Aquarium of Barcelona and in the Poema del Mar in Gran Canaria, which has the largest collection of these animals in the country, with up to eight adult specimens.
Only in Lisbon can so many sea dragons be seen together in Europe and, in the world, it is possible to see them in a few aquariums in the United States and Asia.