May 15, 2011 at 4:38 PM ET
Researchers say they've seen nine potentially new species in the waters surrounding one of the world's most exotic locales, the island of Bali — but they've also seen the damage that humans can do to a once-pristine environment.
The good-news, bad-news report comes from Conservation International, a nonprofit group that has been cataloging new species and the perils they face for decades. Over the past three years, Conservation International's Rapid Assessment Program has documented 953 species of fish and 397 species of coral in Bali's reefs.
The group is working with local partners at the request of the Bali provincial government and fisheries officials, who are looking for advice on how best to protect the region's marine riches.
"We carried out this present survey in 33 sites around Bali, nearly completing a circle around it, and were impressed by much of what we saw," Mark Erdmann, senior adviser for the CI Indonesia marine program, said in a news release. "There was a tremendous variety of habitats, surprisingly high levels of diversity, and the coral reefs appeared to be in an active stage of recovery from bleaching, destructive fishing and crown-of-thorns starfish outbreaks in the 1990s."
This year, a two-week survey identified eight species of fish and one species of coral that may be new to science, Conservation International said. Those species include two types of cardinalfish, two varieties of dottyfish, a sandperch, a fangblenny, a garden eel, a goby fish and a previously unknown type of bubble coral.
Scientists have been tracking the health of Bali's coral reefs since those grim years of the 1990s. "Compared to 12 years ago, we observed an increase in healthy coral reef cover in the area surveyed, indicating a recovery phase. That is why it needs serious protection and management, to complete the revitalization," said Ketut Sarjana Putra, CI Indonesia's acting executive director.
As good as all this sounds, the researchers also saw causes for concern: During this year's two-week survey, divers spotted just three reef sharks and three Napoleon wrasse — which is about as many large reef predators as a diver would see in a healthy reef system during the course of a single dive. Plastic pollution was "omnipresent," Conservation International reported, and the team saw how fishing operations were encroaching on no-take areas in West Bali National Park.
The team recommended that the Bali government come up with a priority list for areas that need immediate protection. The experts also saw a need for better spatial planning to reduce the clash between fishing and marine tourism, for stronger commitment to enforcement and public funding for protected areas, and stricter measures to manage pollution from plastics, sewage and agricultural runoff.
"This RAP survey highlights how important these marine protected areas are to improving economic returns from marine tourism while also providing food security and ensuring the sustainability of small-scale artisanal fisheries,” Erdmann said in the news release.
More beauties from the search for new species:
Connect with the Cosmic Log community by "liking" the log's Facebook page or following @b0yle on Twitter. You can also check out "The Case for Pluto," Alan's book about the controversial dwarf planet and the search for new worlds.