Sept. 17, 2006 — -- Two recent expeditions off the coast of Indonesia have revealed a remarkable "lost world" of marine species that researchers believe are new to science, including a shark that "walks" on its fins.
"It was extraordinary," said Roger McManus of Conservation International, which conducted the expeditions along with the Indonesian government. "These expeditions uncovered what we believe are almost 60 new species to science."
One of the most unusual finds are two new small epaulette sharks that swim among coral reefs and have an odd way of moving around.
"They sort of walk on their pectoral fins," McManus said. "They spend a lot of time on the bottom and they're hunting for mussels and crabs and the things that live in the sand or on the sand. They're extraordinary animals."
The team also discovered a variety of other species, including 20 new corals, eight shrimp species, and 24 new fish including a colorful "flasher" wrasse. Decked out in bright pink, yellow, blue and green hues, the male rapidly "flashes" different colors as part of a mating ritual.
The animals were discovered in an area called the Bird's Head Seascape in the northwestern part of Indonesia's Papua province, one of the richest underwater habitats on Earth. It's in an area known as the "Coral Triangle" that includes Papua New Guinea, the Philippines and the Solomon Islands.
Researchers working to establish more extensive protections for the region said more than 1,200 species of fish and 75 percent of the world's known coral are found there.
The seascape faces increasing threats due to over fishing, McManus said, and from fishing methods that use dynamite that destroys reefs. Pollution from land-based mining and logging operations also create problems in coastal waters, he said.
"All of that activity results in pollution in the oceans," McManus said. "These are very complex ecosystems. And their health depends on having a wide variety and diversity of animals that inhabit them."