I opened up today’s edition of the Jakarta Globe, one of the local English-language newspapers, and was delighted to see sand grains featured on the front page. OK, the purpose of the photo (above) was to feature the creature, but nevertheless the sand is an essential component. So, herewith, the first edition of a new subcategory of the “Sunday sand” posts – Sunday sand critters.
You would think that the waters around the island of Bali would be among the better-known and well-investigated coasts of the world - after all, more than two million visitors arrive every year, many of them devoted to diving and ecotourism. And yet nature can surprise us so easily: the news for which this photo is one illustration reports that a recent survey by Conservation International Indonesia has identified fifty new species over the course of a mere six weeks. Of these, eight new fish species and one new coral were discovered hiding around the shores of Bali. The caption to the picture in the Jakarta Globe described the critter as “a mud-dwelling fish known as heteroconger.” This upset me somewhat – we have more than enough mud in the world and there is no reason to use this term for a perfectly fine tropical sand. Heteroconger, as its name suggests, is a genus of the marine congrid eels, conger conger being the most famous (and largest) species. Also known as garden eels, the conger congregation is widespread, but colonies of sometimes several thousand are particularly fond of the sands around tropical coral reefs. They are long and thin, and live in burrows in the sand, lifting up to two-thirds of their bodies out of the sand and up into the water to feed, disappearing rapidly backwards when disturbed.
The images below are of heteroconger hassi, showing one design of the typical body patterning. But the newly-discovered (and yet-to-be-named) heteroconger from Bali sports distinctively different – but somehow related - pattern.
Here’s the press release describing these discoveries (from AFP and the Sydney Morning Herald):
Eight new reef fish found off Bali
May 13, 2011
Eight new fish and one new coral species have been discovered in waters off Bali.
The new species include eels and damsels, the colourful little fish that dart among coral branches. They were discovered by scientists from Conservation International, a non-profit organisation that applies innovations in science, economics, policy and community participation to protect the earth's biodiversity.
"We have carried out a marine survey in 33 sites around Bali island and we have identified 952 reef fish, and among them we discovered eight new species," team senior adviser Mark van Nydeck Erdmann said. The surveys were carried out off the popular tourist island's north-east coast at Tulamben, a well-known recreational dive site, as well as Nusa Dua, Gili Manuk and Pemuteran, at depths of 10 to 70 metres. Erdmann said the new fish species had not been named but they were in the genuses of Siphamia, Heteroconger, Apogon, Parapercis, Meiacanthus, Manonichthys, Grallenia and Pseudochromis. In their two-week marine survey, which ended on Wednesday, the team also found a new species of euphyllia or bubble coral.
Indonesia is a massive archipelago of 17,000 islands which form part of the so-called Coral Triangle, an area of rich marine biodiversity deemed vital to the health of the seas and global food stocks. Tulamben is the grave of the US Army transport ship Liberty, which was torpedoed by a Japanese submarine in 1942.
Interesting, that – the wreck of the Liberty is a “well-known recerational dive site” (the ship was originally towed to the beach and abandoned, but in 1963, seismic tremors associated with an eruption of Mount Agung caused her to slip off the beach and “she now lies on a sand slope in 30 to 100 feet (9.1 to 30 m) of water, providing one of the most popular dives off Bali.” – see the Wikipedia article). It seems to me that the discovery of new species that have hardly been lurking in the sands of far-flung and inaccessible parts of our oceans is just wonderful – and a delightful reminder of the extent of our ignorance.