Volunteer Blog

Is It Important To Save This Fish?

New species of dottyback, photo courtesy of M Erdmann

This dottyback is a recent discovery to science & it was found by Dr Gerry Allen & Dr Mark Erdmann on the Sea Sanctuaries ‘Expedition & Conservation’ cruiseaboard Dewi Nusantara in early February 2013. If this fish could talk it would probably yelp out in horror ‘Yes – SAVE ME!’ but how important is it for us to protect all known existing species?

According to current counts there are 1.9 million species known to science, but this is a huge underestimate of the actual number of species not yet classified. According to some estimates there could be anywhere between 10 million and 30 million species of animals, plants, bacteria and other creatures. And these are still only a fraction of what has inhabited our planet since conditions have allowed life to thrive. So lots of species have evolved and then died out, leaving us the current cast. We have probably ‘lost’ 99% of creatures that have inhabited the Earth – that’s a big number.

So in the here-and-now (and assuming we won’t have a Jurassic Park style revival of those 99% of species lost) is it important to keep everything we have? Most commentators begin with a description of the complex web of life – the inter-connectedness of species and ecosystem. Then they move on to what they call ‘ecosystem services’ or – in layman’s terms – ‘what us humans get out of it’.
What does the dottyback do for us?

What ecosystem services apply to our friend the dottyback?
Well, it inhabits an area around 60m deep on the coral reef slopes of Batu Rufus, at the eastern edge of our Penemu No Take Zone. This marine community, the encompassing ecosystem and similar systems around the world, provide all sorts of services to us humans.

The first, which benefits us all, is the supply of food & water. More than a billion people rely on fish as their main source of protein. Fisheries and associated industries employ 38 million people directly, while another 162 million are indirectly supported. Other provisioning services include pharmaceutical compounds derived from marine algae and invertebrates.

Secondly, we have ‘regulatory’ services such as regulating climate, preventing natural disasters such as floods (mangroves protected areas from the 2004 tsunami) and disease. The marine environment also plays a key role in the carbon cycle where phytoplankton ‘fix’ atmospheric carbon in vast quantities, locking it up in the deep ocean. The list goes on and on but it’s clear that all of us, in one way or another, are dependent upon the riches of the ocean.

Can we dismember parts of the ecosystem and biodiversity without it affecting us?
Well, if 99% of species have already been wiped out then the answer must be ‘yes’ and we can still carry on without any consequences. But the problem that we face is not threats to small numbers of specific species over long periods of time; the threat we face is wholescale changes to the planets environment, whether from ocean acidification, climate change, over fishing, logging, desertification or a number of other ills.

Whole ecosystems are threatened and the loss of particular species within each ecosystem alters the delicate balance of life in a system already under huge stress.

Save Our Dottyback
So yes, it is important to save this little Dottyback – and  we need to conserve its habitat in Batu Rufus. But that’s still not enough – we need to conserve the wider ecosystem and tackle, head on, the larger perils we & our planet face.
Sea Sanctuaries mission is to establish large scale marine conservation areas in richly biodiverse, imperilled habitats. So far we have created, and manage, two large No Take Zones comprising more than 700 square kilometres of the Coral Triangle.

Join us and help conserve this special place and oh yes… Save Our Dottyback!