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Earth's most diverse marine life found off Indonesia's Papua Province

Washington, D.C. (Sept. 20, 2006) -- Two recent expeditions led by Conservation International (CI) to the heart of Asia's "Coral Triangle" discovered dozens of new species of marine life including epaulette sharks, "flasher" wrasse and reef-building coral, confirming the region as the Earth's richest seascape.

The unmatched marine biodiversity of the Bird's Head Seascape, named for the shape of the distinctive peninsula on the northwestern end of Indonesia's Papua province, includes more than 1,200 species of fish and almost 600 species of reef-building (scleractinian) coral, or 75 percent of the world's known total.

Researchers described an underwater world of visual wonders, such as the small epaulette shark that "walks" on its fins and colorful schools of reef fish populating abundant and healthy corals of all shapes and sizes.

Threats from over-fishing with dynamite and cyanide, as well as deforestation and mining that degrade coastal waters, require immediate steps to protect the unique marine life that sustains local communities. The seascape's central location in the Coral Triangle of the Pacific, which exports and maintains biodiversity in the entire Indo-Pacific marine realm, makes it one of the planet's most urgent marine conservation priorities.

"These Papuan reefs are literally 'species factories' that require special attention to protect them from unsustainable fisheries and other threats so they can continue to benefit their local owners and the global community," said Mark Erdmann, senior adviser of CI's Indonesian Marine Program, who led the surveys. "Six of our survey sites, which are areas the size of two football fields, had over 250 species of reef-building coral each that's more than four times the number of coral species of the entire Caribbean Sea." Though human population density in the region is low, the coastal people of the Bird's Head peninsula are heavily dependent on the sea for their live
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Contact: Tom Cohen
tcohen@conservation.org
202-912-1532
Conservation International
20-Sep-2006


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