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Eco Mural Project 12: Leafy Seadragon, 931 South 46th Street, Philadelphia, PA

Designed and painted by Olivia Losee-Unger


     Many species threatened by climate change and environmental degradation are not well known to the public, and the leafy seadragon is no exception. Hagopian Arts is excited to introduce this lesser-known creature to Philadelphia as an example of the breathtaking diversity of species that are in crisis due to human interference, pollution, and global warming. 

     Leafy seadragons are endemic to the shallow coastal waters of eastern and southern Australia. They are fairly small creatures, reaching a maximum length of 14 inches, and feed on small crustaceans, plankton, and mysids (small shrimp). “Leafies” are within the Syngnathidae family, related to seahorses and pipefish. 

At a glance, the leafy seadragon may trick the viewer into thinking it is merely floating kelp. Millions of years of evolution shaped this perfect specimen of specialized camouflage, allowing Leafies to blend into its temperate coastal habitat. As a result, Leafy seadragons are rarely victim to predators and face few hardships beyond finding food and suitable mating partners. Like seahorses, the male is responsible for incubating eggs, but Leafies do so in a unique manner. The female seadragon deposits up to 300 eggs on a spongy brood patch along the underside of the male’s tail, fertilizing them in the process. The eggs will then be incubated there until they are ready to hatch after four to six weeks. 

     Leafy seadragons are spectacular, awe-inspiring creatures, but while their unique and specialized form saves them from predators, their beauty makes them a target for poaching.  Divers and aquarists took so many seadragons from the wild that in 1990, Australia placed them under a protective order, slowing their decline. While this has helped their populations stabilize, leafy seadragons face much larger issues when it comes to the health of their environment. 

     Australian coasts suffer from several human-caused factors: ocean warming, runoff pollution, plastic pollution, and ecological degradation through fishing and tourism. Southern and eastern Australia is home to some of the world’s most spectacular shallow coral reef systems, which are particularly delicate. These coral reefs are treasure troves of biodiversity, home to hundreds of thousands of species found nowhere else, like the leafy seadragon. To learn more about coral reefs, their importance, and how to preserve them, please visit our Kauai Coral Reef Life page.

     Understanding the consequences of irresponsible fishing, stormwater and industrial runoff, poaching, ocean warming, and plastic pollution are good ways to start protecting the leafy seadragon and its habitat.

If you are interested in learning more, getting involved, and gaining further resources and tools, please follow the links below to learn more:

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