More than 50 new species, including sharks, shrimp, and reef-building corals, have been found in Indonesian West Papua (Irian Jaya).
The region, however, is coming under increasing threat from a proposed national policy to increase commercial fisheries there.
Among the new species were two kinds of epaulette shark (Hemiscyllium sp.) – small, slender-bodied bottom-dwellers that use their pectoral fins to “walk” across the seafloor.
Also discovered were several new species of “flasher” wrasses – named for the brilliantly colored displays the normally drab males flash to entice females to mate – along with fairy basslets, damselfishes, and a new jawfish. The scientists recorded a total of 1,233 species of coral reef fishes, at least 23 of them endemic.
Of more than 600 known species of coral in the region, nearly all were found within the team’s survey sites. Six sites surveyed proved to have the highest diversity of hard corals ever recorded, each with more than 250 species within a single hectare.
“That’s more than four times the number of coral species of the entire Caribbean Sea in an area roughly the size of two football fields,” says Conservation International’s Mark Erdmann.
The team found widespread evidence of bomb-fishing – a practice used to stun fish that are collected for food, or as bait for the lucrative shark fin industry. “On several survey dives, we heard reef-shattering explosions in the vicinity,” says Erdmann.
A plan to transfer fisheries pressure from Indonesia’s over-fished western seas eastward toward the surveyed region may exacerbate these threats.
“We are now closely examining the survey recommendations and may support the development of a network of fisheries reserves in the region to safeguard this priceless national heritage,” says Yaya Mulyana, head of the Indonesian Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Affairs’ Marine Conservation Department.