Conservation International scientists have discovered over 50 new marine species in the waters off the Bird's Head Peninsula in the Indonesian province of Papua, the western portion of the island of New Guinea, which lies close to the biogeographical border between South East Asia and Australia. The BBC News website gives a good summary while the Conservation International website includes many pictures and a video of a 'walking shark' discovered during the expedition.
Previous exploration of the mountains in the peninsula has also thrown up new species of plants and animals. New Guinea is possibly one of the last great frontiers of biodiversity exploration: when interviewed on the radio, one of the scientists called it a 'lost garden of Eden'.
Threats to the area include cyanide and dynamite fishing, which are destructive forms of fishing that leave lots of 'collateral damage' to coral reefs in the process. The reefs are important to the surrounding coastal communities because they act as nurseries and refuges for the maintenance of fisheries which they depend on for food and subsistence, therefore keeping them intact has a very real social and economic value, especially since Papua is one of the poorer provinces in Indonesia.
It's heartening, though, that the Indonesian government has noticed these new findings and is looking into ways to expand the protection of Indonesian marine life, of which only 11% is protected, according to the CI article. However, the attention that this piece of news has drawn may have the side effect of drawing illegal traders to the region in search of ornamental fishes, for which there is a large market.
Unusually for a piece of science and nature news, an illustrated article on these discoveries is also to be found on page 3 of the Straits Times for today, 19 Sep 2006.