Tuesday, September 19, 2006


50 New Species Discovered in Indonesia, Including Walking Sharks

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.

Source: Conservation International
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Monday, September 18, 2006


Most Corals Can't Survive Global Warming

Red Sea CoralMany corals rely on their symbiotic algae for survival. Under stress (such as higher temperatures) these algae are expelled, resulting in coral bleaching. It has previously been reported that corals may recover from coral bleaching by changing the type of algae they host. However, a new research study shows that less than a quarter of coral species can do this.

The corals which have been seen to survive raised temperatures are those that host several types of algae. These are in the minority. A review of the published data, by Tamar L. Goulet of the University of Mississippi, shows that only 23% of corals fall into this category. She looked at 43 studies of 442 species of coral.

If global climate change continues, she concludes that many symbiotic coral species may not survive.

Source: Marine Ecology Progress Series, 321:1-7, 2006.
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Friday, September 15, 2006


Pacific nations to protect Whales

A group of Pacific Island nations are today signing an agreement to strengthen efforts to save whales and dolphins in the South Pacific.

"There is a high level of support among Pacific people for conserving whales and dolphins. A growing number of Pacific nations are also declaring whale sanctuaries in their waters, most recently Vanuatu," New Zealand Conservation Minister Chris Carter said.

"Until now the primary international forum for discussing whale conservation has been the International Whaling Commission, which is widely regarded in the Pacific as outdated, deadlocked and expensive for poorer countries to join and attend."

The memorandum commits signatories to a whole range of initiatives to protect and preserve whales and dolphins, such as threat reduction measures and habitat protection. It comes into effect with four signatories, and up to 11 nations are expected to sign today.

Source: Press Release New Zealand Government

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Monday, September 11, 2006


Preserve the Manta Ray in Indonesia

Manta RayA Flying Manta Project has been initiated by Ivan Choong who is "proud to be using my skills with underwater photography to contribute back to conservation".

The Manta ray has been listed on the 2005 IUCN Red List, along with four species of Mobula rays.

Thousands of Manta rays are slaughtered annually by fishermen in Indonesia, Mexico and although now illegal, the Philippines, for food and to supply powdered brachial elements for Asian traditional medicine. This demand has changed the Indonesian fishery from a subsistence fishery catching 200-300 Mantas/year to a commercial fishery catching between 1,000-2,400 Mantas/year.

Ivan hopes to increase governments' and NGOs' awareness of Manta rays' vulnerability to fishing pressure. The long lifespan, late maturity and low reproductive rate of Manta rays make them a poor target fishery because they cannot quickly replace adults that are removed from a population. Mantas live 50--100 years, reach maturity at 8--10 years, and have only one pup every 1--3 years.

Ivan's objective is to conduct research on the Manta rays in Bali with the aim of promoting Manta ray conservation in the SE Asia region. All data gathered will be analysed in collaboration with local researchers in Singapore, Indonesia and the Manta Pacific Research Foundation based in Hawaii.

There is a 95% success rate of spotting Mantas when diving at Manta Point (southwest Nusa Penida, Bali's largest offshore island) so for Phase I of the project, for almost three weeks in Aug 06, Ivan looked into the migratory patterns of Mantas at Manta Point by cataloguing those sighted daily.

This was done by photographing the specific markings on their undersides, assigning a project number to each, and keeping records of the frequency of their visits to Manta Point; as well as keeping records of daily weather and tidal conditions, the time of day, and the number of Mantas at the start of each dive.

For Phase II, in August 2007: the project will expand to include more participants and guest researchers.

For Phase III, in August 2008: an increased number of participants and continuation of data collection.

Anyone wishing further information can contact Ivan on: flyingMantaproject@i-nsc.net

Source: Aquamarine Diving Bali
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Wednesday, September 06, 2006


Creature of the month: masked puffer fish

masked puffer fish

Distinctive looking, this small pufferfish has a black mask over its eyes reaching back to its pectoral fins, and a black mouth. It is common on fringing coral reefs
in the Red Sea. Elsewhere it is replaced by Arothron nigropunctatus (the Blackspotted Puffer). However, some experts believe these to be the same species.

Pufferfish are bulbous fishes with a scaleless, prickly, skin. Their mouths look pursed and are fused into a beak. They are called pufferfish because when threatened
they greatly inflate themselves with water, making themselves look much larger than they usually are. This defence mechanism is important because they move so slowly through the water they would otherwise be easy pickings for predators. Their second line of defence is their toxicity.

The Puffer is harmless, unless eaten. The liver, intestines, gonads and skin are highly poisonous and cause death in around 60% of people who eat it. If prepared properly the puffer (or fugu) is edible and considered a delicacy in Japan and Korea.

The Puffer's toxin - tetrodotoxin - is produced within the pufferfish by bacteria. The fish aquire the bacteria by grazing on the reef and eating molluscs and other invertebrates. Weight-for-weight, tetrodotoxin is up to 100 times as deadly as the
venom of the black widow spider and one of the most poisonous natural substances.

Further Reading

Coral Reef Fishes, Indo-Pacific and Caribbean, by Ewald Lieske and Robert Myers, Harper Collins
Tetrodotoxin...an ancient alkaloid from the sea... By Jim Johnson

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Friday, September 01, 2006


New Measures Reduce Turtle Bycatch by 90%

Action is urgently needed to prevent the loss of leatherback and loggerhead sea turtles from the Pacific Ocean. Reducing bycatch of sea turtles in pelagic longline fisheries may contribute to their recovery.

A study by the Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council indicates that new measures have been extremely effective at reducing interactions with endangered sea turtles in the Hawaii-based longline swordfish fishery.

Regulations designed to reduce turtle interactions came into effect for the Hawaii-based longline swordfish fishery in May 2004. The regulations changed the type and size of fishing hook and bait used by the Hawaii-based longline swordfish fleet from using a J-shaped hook with squid bait to a wider circle-shaped hook with fish bait.

There were significant reductions in sea turtle and shark capture rates and reduced proportion of turtles that ingest hooks, which may increase post release survival prospects, without comprising target species catches. Capture rates of leatherback and loggerhead turtles declined significantly by 82.8 percent and 90.0 percent, respectively, after the turtle regulations came into effect. The swordfish catch rate, the target species of this fishery, was significantly higher by 16.0 percent. The shark catch rate was 36 percent lower.

Kitty Simonds, Executive Director of the Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council, explained, "Sea turtles are among the most extraordinary creatures on the planet and are valued by people around the world. In spite of this, sea turtle populations are declining due to numerous threats. This new study confirms that the Hawaii-based longline swordfish fishery has achieved significant reductions in turtle interactions. This is a model fishery, and we are taking steps to transfer these effective and commercially viable turtle bycatch solutions to other fisheries. However, unless initiatives to address the more serious threats to sea turtle populations are effective, efforts to minimize interactions in longline fisheries will not be enough."

Paul Dalzell, Senior Scientist of the Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council and co-author of the report, said: "Sea turtle numbers have declined dramatically in recent years due to the combined effect of many threats, including mortality in fishing gear. Whether some populations survive the next few decades is an open question. We are doing our part to address this crisis."

The report Efficacy and commercial viability of regulations designed to reduce sea turtle interactions in the Hawaii-Based Longline Swordfish Fishery is available online at www.wpcouncil.org.

It can be ordered from the Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council, 1164 Bishop Street, Suite 1400, Honolulu, Hawaii 96813 USA; Email: egilman@blueocean.org

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