Sea Sanctuaries Blog

Dr Mark Erdmann joins our Scientific Advisory Board


Sea Sanctuaries has created a Scientific Advisory Board to help us in our conservation mission. We are fortunate enough to have 3 of the world's leading tropical marine scientists join us. Dr Mark Erdmann is a senior advisor to Conservation International’s Indonesian Marine Program. His specific focus is on improving the conservation and science-based management of the ultra-diverse coastal and marine resources of the Raja Ampat Corridor within the Bird’s Head Seascape in Indonesian Papua.
 You can find out more about what Mark has done in the 'Who Are We" page.

Recently Mark lead the Conservation International team which has worked with the Government of the Republic of Indonesia to grant Indonesia's Manta rays full protection. Here is the recent press release from Conservation International about Manta protection.

"Arlington, Va. USA/Jakarta, Indonesia –Indonesia, a nation that has been the world's largest fishery for sharks and rays for nearly three decades, announced today legislation that will fully protect all manta rays within its nearly 6 million square kilometer exclusive economic zone (EEZ), making it the largest sanctuary for both species of manta rays in the world. Conservation International (CI) and its partners welcomed the bold legislation, which has come at a crucial time for mantas, whose global populations have declined precipitously over the past decade and are now considered "Vulnerable to Extinction" by the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. 

The decision was influenced by a review conducted by Indonesian Ministry of Marine Affairs and Fisheries (MMAF), the Indonesian Institute of Sciences, CI and coalition of conservation organizations. The review included findings from a recent study, led by WildAid, The Manta Trust and Shark Savers, that reveal a single manta ray is worth an estimated US$1 million in tourism revenue over the course of its lifetime versus its value of $40-$500 if caught and killed.

"As the world's largest archipelagic nation, it is important for Indonesia to maximize economic returns from our marine resources,” said Sharif Sutardjo, Indonesia's Minister of Marine Affairs and Fisheries. This action will fully protect both species of manta rays in Indonesian waters and ensure improved management of their populations."

The demand for manta rays and their Mobula ray relatives has increased in the past decade and led to dramatic declines worldwide. 

Caught for their gill rakers, manta products are primarily sold in Guangzhou region in southern China as a medicinal product to treat everything from chickenpox to cancer and infertility. Manta ray products have no known curative properties and are not considered a formal component of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) nor are they recognized by most TCM practitioners,

Manta rays were added to the Appendix II list of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) in March 2013. This listing requires the international trade in mantas or their body parts to be strictly controlled to prevent overexploitation and extinction. 

“Tourism and fishery values of mantas are at direct odds with one another and we need to make a choice,” saidDr. Tiene Gunawan, Conservation International's Indonesia Marine Program Director, added " The economics make our decision easy: we now know that a living manta ray is easily worth at least 2,000 times more alive."

Indonesia is one of the few places in the world where both species of manta ray (the oceanic manta ray Manta birostris and the reef manta M. alfredi) can be readily observed by tourists. Their up to 25-foot wingspan, docile nature, intelligence and grace in the water make them a top marine tourism draw. 

"Indonesia now has the second largest manta ray tourism industry in the world, with an estimated annual value of over US$15 million,” Agus Dermawan, the Director of the Ministry's Marine Conservation Directorate. “Given the huge area of reefs and islands in our country, if managed properly, Indonesia could become the top manta tourism destination on the planet."

"Mantas have a life history that makes them susceptible to overfishing," said Dr. Mark Erdmann, CI’s senior advisor to the Indonesian Marine Program and one of the leaders of the Ministry study. “They take up to a decade to mature and females produce only one pup every 2-5 years. A given female manta might produce maximally 16 pups over her lifetime, with most producing even fewer. In many ways, manta reproduction is more similar to humans than to other fish.” 

This national ban on Manta fishing comes less than a year after local Indonesian regency governments, including the top marine tourism destinations, Raja Ampat and West Manggarai declared shark and ray sanctuaries throughout their entire territorial waters. With this new regulation, a total of four species of sharks and rays, along with whale sharks and sawfish, are now fully protected in Indonesian waters. The Ministry is now considering expanding protections to other threatened shark species such as hammerheads and oceanic whitetip sharks.

"The action by local governments helped jumpstart public discourse on the fate of sharks and mantas in Indonesia," said Erdmann, "Those protections, though ground-breaking and extremely important, were not sufficient. Mantas are highly mobile and frequently migrate out of these sanctuary areas. These vulnerable animals require national level protection and we're delighted the Indonesian government has taken this visionary step."

In protecting its manta rays, Indonesia joins a growing list of countries and states that have granted full protection to at least one species of manta: Australia, Ecuador, the Maldives, Guam, Yap, Palau, the Philippines, New Zealand, Honduras, Mexico and the US states of Hawaii and Florida."

We have two more high profile appointments that we will share with you in the coming days.. So keep a watch out!... 

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. 


Incredible reptiles....


Blue tailed skink

In Raja Ampat, we have a wide and varied pool of reptiles. This is due to the presence of varying habitats that support lots of different prey items for the reptiles that are largely carnivores. One of the most charismatic reptiles that we see regularly when we are walking through the jungles and rainforests are Pacific Blue-Tailed Skinks. Blue-tailed skinks are usually about 4 to 8 centimetres long. When they become frightened they have the ability to pop their tail off and it will continue to wiggle and distract their predator while they run away. This is an incredible and ingenious evolutionary adaptation. When you encounter them you can actually see their tails dancing wildly just in case you are a predator. We have discussed the local skinks with reptile expert Nick baker and he belives that the one found in Fam is a  Raja Ampat variant specific to our area because of the colouration of its feet! This is just one of the numerous reptiles that we see regularly, we recently discovered what may be a new species of snake too, you can see the details of that expedition here – New species of Snake!