Hawaii Farm Could Be First To Breed Rare Sea Dragons

Carol Schmarr
Carol Schmarr

KEAHOLE (KHNL) -- A beautiful but endangered marine creature called a sea dragon is on the brink of extinction. But a Hawaii Island couple is trying to save it. We visited the only breeding program in the world for sea dragons.

If you thought the Lord of the Rings character Treebeard only existed in fiction, think again! Maybe art imitates life. This aquatic Treebeard is called a leafy sea dragon. At the Ocean Rider seahorse farm in Keahole, the leafy sea dragon and its cousin, the weedy sea dragon, hope to make a comeback. Owner Carol Schmarr said, "They're rare, exotic, expensive, beautiful, and we've been able to acquire the specimens for a breeding program here at Ocean Rider."

Not easy to do. The leafy dragons are $6,000 each and very hard to obtain. Schmarr said, "The Australian government allows one permit to one person, one time a year, to buy one pregnant male." She called herself lucky that this year, that one person was her.

They're high maintenance in captivity. Schmarr describes some of the issues: "These animals eat only live food. They're very sensitive and need a night light at night. So noone's ever been able to breed them in captivity before."

But Carol and her husband Craig will try. "It'll take two years to reach sexual maturity, then they have to mate, then we have to get the fertile off spring. So it'll be a great challenge."

She estimates there are less than a thousand left in the wild. "When they disappear it indicates the resources have collapsed."

If they die, it's a bad omen for the oceans. So the Schmarrs are working hard to save the sea dragons. "If we can produce the animals in captivity, people no longer need to go to get them in the wild, and we can protect the ones out there," she hopes.

You can see the leafy and weedy sea dragons at Ocean Rider farm in Keahole.