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Speckled Carpetshark spotted in the waters of the Southeast Aru marine sanctuary (SAP). Credit: ATSEA-2

A group of 13 researchers has reported the discovery of Speckled carpetshark (Hemiscyllium trispeculare) in the waters of the Southeast Aru marine sanctuary (SAP) in Maluku, Indonesia. Growing up to 79cm long, this species of walking shark is scattered throughout Australian waters – its existence in the waters of the Aru Islands is only a recent discovery.

This shark was found at the observation site, which has a sandy bottom with hard coral and coral rubble. According to early observations, the primary habitat of this shark in Indonesia appears to be in shallow coastal waters and coral reefs. However, this still requires further research. Monitoring of marine ecosystem resources in the Southeast Aru Islands SAP also discovered the Australian humpback dolphin (Sousa sahulensis). This dolphin’s distribution is limited to coastal and tropical/subtropical waters around the Sahul Shelf, which stretches from Northern Australia to the southern waters of Papua and Papua New Guinea.

The team of 13 researchers involved in the monitoring activities was comprised of ecosystem and species experts from the Southeast Aru Islands SAP management, BKKPN Kupang, Pattimura University and related partners. The Southeast Aru Islands SAP is one of the national marine conservation areas (KKPN) established by the Ministry of Marine Affairs and Fisheries (MMAF) in 2009. This area has been set a number of conservation targets: to protect ecosystems, endemic marine biota and turtles; to support the development of the tourism industry; and to conserve marine resources for communities living there. To improve the effectiveness of area management, the Kupang KKPN Centre has collaborated with UNDP Indonesia as the National Coordinating Unit of the GEF/UNDP/PEMSEA ATSEA-2 Programme since October 2020.

During their monitoring activities, the researchers also collected data on the condition of mangroves, seagrass beds and coral reefs, while also carrying out initial data collection on vulnerable and endangered species. They were divided into several small teams, which included a team dedicated to collecting samples of coral reef substrates, seagrass and mangroves, while also monitoring turtle nesting beaches, collecting cetacean data and monitoring the use of resources.

Based on observations at 11 dive points spread across each zone within the conservation area and beyond its boundaries, the team succeeded in identifying the diversity of hard coral composition, along with an assessment of the average biomass of herbivorous and carnivorous fish in the area. These data demonstrate the importance of the food chain to support the restoration of coral ecosystems within the area. An awareness of herbivorous fish and algae eaters has been shown to support the process of restoring coral areas, by providing space in which coral seedlings can grow.

Marine biologist experts measuring whale carcass found along the beach. Credit: ATSEA-2
Janson Pieters from Pattimura University using a refractometer to measure salinity. Credit: ATSEA-2

While collecting data from the communities, it was discovered that many already have their own rules in place for utilising resources; especially in the Apara village, where they are known as petuanan (marine tenure). In addition, it was revealed in interviews that fishermen target balobo or julung-julung fish, groupers, sea cucumbers and mud crabs. These fishermen stated that they usually make a catch every day, and often spend several days at the fishing location.

Information on the condition of marine ecosystems, community utilisation patterns and findings of unique marine biota in the SAP area is expected to support the process of reviewing zones within the area and contribute to better, more efficient management of the area. The data that has been collected also illustrates the area’s important value for the surrounding communities. Therefore, area management will need to address the challenge of developing community awareness, especially in making adjustments to catches according to the designated zone.

In addition, communities should not only be involved as a beneficiary, but also as a supervisor that helps strengthen existing management at the community level. In this way, petuanan – or marine tenure – can be central to the effective management of the SAP area in the Southeast Aru Islands.

Read also: Riches of the Aru Sea: Fisheries Past and Present