Sea Sanctuaries Blog

New species of fish named after Helen Newman

Trimma helenae holotype Aug.jpg

Exciting things have been going on at Sea Sanctuaries recently. A new species of fish has been discovered and it has been named after one of our founders Helen Newman, leader of the survey that led to the discovery of this species. The fish has been named after her for her tireless conservation efforts on behalf of Raja Ampat and its indigenous communities over the past decade..

Helen is a Marine Biologist who has worked in SE Asia for more than 30 years and co-founded Sea Sanctuaries with Simon Day. 

Trimma helenae paratype Feb.jpg

The new species of Trimma helenae, was discovered by Dr Mark Erdmann, who is on our Scientific Advisory Board, in the southeastern lagoon at Penemu. The new species has a unique colour pattern, consisting of a yellow anterior half and red posterior half, with four small white spots along the midline of the dorsal and ventral surfaces of the caudal peduncle. T. helenae belongs to a group of 12 valid nominal species defined by having a broad bony interorbital region (width 80– 100% of pupil diameter), but differs from all of but three of these in having only cycloid scales in the midline and on the sides of the nape. The other members of the group have mostly ctenoid scales in this region. 

We also need to say thank you to Dr Gerry Allen, who is also one of our Scientfic Advisers, for his role in the discovery. Credits are due to Mark & Gerry for the Paratype and Holotype images you see here. 



Fish diversity in Raja Ampat...


Fish diversity

According to Fishbase (the largest global species database of fish) there are 32,700 different species of fish that have been classified by August 2013. It is estimated that roughly 250 new species are described every year. 1,669 of these fish species can be located in Raja Ampat. This is incredible as this is a much higher number than the Great Barrier Reef which inhabits a much larger area and is widely regarded as a diving mecca. Last Year we discovered three new species of fish in our no take zones proving just how important the marine area is.


In 2013 we were fortunate enough to have Dr Gerry Allen, the regional authority on fish identification and classification & Dr Mark Erdmann , Head of Conservation International's Bird's Head programme conduct a 4 day rapid assessment survey of our No Take Zones. They discovered three new fish species & a further 7 fish species were noted as 'beyond their normal distribution ranges'. In just 4 days and 11 sites, the scientists recorded a total of 707 fish species in the 5,600ha Penemu protected area. They were amazed that the average number of species on the sites was 281 species (considered exceptionally diverse) and 3 sites had over 300 species. One site had a truly staggering 357 species on one dive (the second highest fish count ever recorded on one dive).


Aside from its location in the bullseye of the Coral Triangle, Sea Sanctuaries conservation areas contain a wide range of habitats from steep walls and fringing reefs to mangroves and lagoons. This is one of the reasons for the exceptionally high biodiversity. 


Marine Invertebrate 'hotels' installed... A joint venture...



Sea Sanctuaries have worked with the University of Papua, the Smithsonian Institute, UCLA & Conservation International to install some "biodiversity hotels" in key areas. These sampling devices are known as "ARMS", and they are made of laminate plastic and anchored into the sand/rubble with stainless steel rebar/cable & as you can see from the photo the stacks of plates serve as a "hotel" that invites all kinds of reef animals to settle in - crustaceans, molluscs, bryozoans, worms, corals, even fish.


laminate ARMS.jpg


This technique was developed by the US government agency NOAA as a way of conducting standardized marine biodiversity sampling around the world. As part of our conservation programme we work with organisations like Conservation International & help them carry out Rapid Assessment Programmes where we count all the fish and corals. Over the past decade this has clearly shown Raja Ampat to be at the top of marine biodiversity globally, however, it has only focused on fish and corals. 

The idea with the ARMS is to use a more standardized sampling technique that focuses on all the invertebrates especially. They are installed at two depths (10-12m and 30m) and some are recovered after 1 year, while the rest recovered after 2 years. When they are recovered, literally every single animal that has taken up residence is counted, photographed, and identified, giving a standardized measure of biodiversity for the area.


Because the ARMS need to stay undisturbed for 1-2 years we have installed them in sites that won't be subject to lots of liveaboard divers or diving fishermen who might vandalize them or steal the stainless steel hardware. 

These ARMS & others like them which have been installed in other parts of Raja Ampat will build a much more accurate picture of the amazing biodiversity of Raja Ampat's marine environment