Semporna has world’s highest marine biodiversity

Posted on December 20, 2010. Filed under: Bio-diversity |

-Bernama-

KOTA KINABALU (Dec 20, 2010): Semporna in the east coast of Sabah may have the highest marine diversity in the world, concluded a team of 18 scientists involved in the just-concluded Semporna Marine Ecological Expedition (SMEE) 2010.

Scientists from Malaysia, the Netherlands and the US spent three weeks examining the reefs of Semporna, a priority conservation area and documenting the richness for mushroom corals, reef fish, shrimps, gall crabs, ovulid snails and algae.

In a press conference here today, Dr Bert Hoeksema, Department Head of Marine Zoology in the Netherlands Centre for Biodiversity (NCB) Naturalis, the main sponsor for the project said they found 43 species of mushroom corals, the highest number since the previous record of 40 in Indonesia and Papua New Guinea.

“Mushroom corals can be used as a proxy for other coral richness. Where we find high richness of mushroom corals, we usually find extremely high richness of other corals,” he said.

A total of 844 species of fish, over 90 species of coral shrimp and over 100 species of algae were also found from the study at 62 surrounding sites.

The expedition team also discovered a couple of coral shrimp and gall crab species that were new to science, and a rare mushroom coral species, the lithophyllon ranjithi.

Semporna, which lies within the boundaries of the Coral Triangle, has a rich mix of reef types – fringing reefs, patch reefs, pre-atoll reefs, a barrier reef and oceanic reefs (Sipadan Island) – that have not been fully studied. Many species in the extremely diverse habitats remain undiscovered.

The expedition also found that only 5% of the live coral were in excellent preservation while 23% had good cover, 36% fair cover and 36% in adverse health.

Human impact especially from unsustainable fisheries is posing a direct threat to the corals which is a food, shelter and substrate provider for marine life.

“We saw nets, traps, lines, craters in the coral reefs from blasting, unexploded detonators…,” said Bert.

He stressed on urgent action for conservation before over-fishing, destructive fishing (fish bombing), pollution, and development destroyed the haven for rich marine life. He also suggested that diving tourism, which the area is famous for, be spread out to other localities.

SMEE was co organised by WWF-Malaysia, NCB Naturalis, Universiti Malaysia Sabah and University of Malaya, in collaboration with Sabah Parks, Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia, Universiti Malaysia Sarawak and Old Dominion University.

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