52 New Species Found on Indonesian Reefs, ENN, 09/18/06
Source: Environmental News Network
WASHINGTON, DC, September 18, 2006 (ENS) - Scientists exploring waters off Indonesia's Papua province have discovered a remarkable array of new fish and coral species. The reefs off the coast of the Bird's Head peninsula could comprise the world's most biologically diverse marine area, according to Conservation International researchers, and should be one of the planet's most urgent marine conservation priorities.
During two recent surveys of the Bird's Head Seascape, CI scientists discovered 20 new coral species, 24 new fish species and eight new species of mantis shrimp.
The new species include a small nocturnal shark that walks across the sea floor on its fins and a "flasher" wrasse, a brown fish that flashes brilliant colors to attract females.
The scientists described the findings as remarkable even within an area already known for its rich biodiversity.
The seascape lies with the "Coral Triangle" of the Pacific, which includes more than 1,200 species of fish and almost 600 species of reef-building coral or 75 percent of the world's known total.
The area covers some 70,000 square miles within the Indian Ocean, including 2,500 islands and submerged reefs.
Virtually all the species found in the Coral Triangle were found in the Bird's Head Seascape and six survey sites had the highest diversity of reef-building coral ever reported.
It also boasts the largest Pacific leatherback turtle nesting area in the world as well as migratory populations of sperm and Bryde's whales, orcas and several dolphin species.
"These Papuan reefs are literally 'species factories' that require special attention to protect them from unsustainable fisheries and other threats so they can continue to benefit their local owners and the global community," said Mark Erdmann, senior adviser of CI's Indonesian Marine Program, who led the surveys.
The researchers said that the area needs immediate protection from overfishing as well as from deforestation and mining that degrade coastal waters. They also reported the use of cyanide and dynamite by fishermen in the area.
The Bird's Head peninsula is sparsely populated but the coastal communities are heavily dependent on the sea. Both the livelihoods of the subsistence fishermen and the region's rich biodiversity face an ominous threat from a government plan to boost commercial fishing in the Papua province.
"The coastal villages we surveyed were mostly engaged in subsistence fishing, farming and gathering, and they require healthy marine ecosystems to survive," said Paulus Boli, a State University of Papua researcher who led the socioeconomic component of the expeditions. "We are very concerned about the potential impact of planned commercial fisheries expansion in the region, and we urge a precautionary approach that emphasizes sustainability over intensive exploitation."
CI is working with other conservation groups to pressure the Indonesian government to set up a series of marine protected areas within Bird's Head Seascape.
Only 11 percent of the seascape is currently protected, most of it in the Teluk Cenderawasih National Park, and CI warns that commercial fishing could wipe out the area's biodiversity within 5 years.
Papua and its offshore waters have proven an epicenter of new species in recent years. Last year scientists with CI and the Indonesian Institute of Science found several dozen new species of frogs, butterflies, flowers and birds within Papua's Foja Mountains. The mountains are only a few hundred kilometers inland from the Bird's Head Seascape.