Eight Experts Named to Banggai Rescue Science Team

May 16, 2012 in Project Updates, Slideshow, The Expedition

Clockwise from top left:  Craig Watson, Dr. Matt Wittenrich, Dr. Roy Yanong, Gayatri Lilley, Dr. Tom Waltzek, and Eric Cassiano

Expedition to Indonesia Set for June 2012. Team includes marine aquaculturists, aquatic veterinarians, and marine fisheries scientists

SHELBURNE, Vermont With an ultimate goal of getting the Banggai Cardinalfish safely off the endangered species list, the Banggai Rescue Project today announced its science team, based at the University of Florida Tropical Aquaculture Laboratory in Ruskin, Florida, and Bali, Indonesia.

Craig A. Watson, M.Aq., director and research coordinator for the University of Florida Tropical Aquaculture Laboratory, known as UF/TAL, will head up planning for the team’s expedition and research into health and captive breeding issues and methods. Craig has a master’s degree in aquaculture from Auburn University, and is the author of a number of papers on aquaculture and fish health issues.

Matthew L. Wittenrich, Ph.D., a larval fish physiologist also at UF/TAL, will be looking at the potential to encourage mariculture of the species by native peoples in the Banggai Islands, as well as setting up an experimental Banggai Cardinal breeding facility in Florida. Matt is currently working with the Rising Tide Conservation Initiative raising marine ornamental fishes from eggs collected by public aquaria members of the American Zoological Association.

Roy Yanong, V.M.D., is an aquatic animal veterinarian and a long-time tropical fish enthusiast working with UF/TAL. He has been studying the “mystery disease” responsible for killing many wild-caught Banggai Cardinals soon after their purchase by aquarium retailers, breeders, and hobbyists. He will attempt to trace the source of a virus in the supply chain between the islands and import facilities in Los Angeles. He and Matt hope to acquire a quantity of healthy broodstock while on the expedition. Roy received his veterinary degree from the University of Pennsylvania.

Eric Cassiano, M.Sc. is a marine biologist with an interest in marine ornamental fish larvaculture. He will be working with captive reproduction and large-scale techniques.

Tom Waltzek, VMD, Ph.D. is a postdoctoral researcher and aquatic veterinary virologist. Tom
has worked extensively with iridoviral diseases, including the virus suspected to be responsible for fatal disease in wild-caught Banggai cardinalfish. He and Roy Yanong will be working closely together on tracking the origin of the lethal iridovirus.

Indonesian Marine Science Experts

Gayatri Reksodihardjo-Lilley is a marine conservation and fisheries expert and founder of LINI, the Indonesian Nature Foundation. She will coordinate the Banggai rescue work in Indonesia with the field team, and provide an ongoing link for the project with Indonesian scientists and fisheries personnel on the ground, and in the waters of the Banggai Islands.

Yunaldi Yahya, M.Sc. is one of the very few experienced Indonesian fisheries scientists specializing in reef monitoring, fish identification, and reef survey methodologies. Yunaldi has spent much time in the Banggai Islands, mapping BCF distribution and densities.

Ketut Mahardika Ph.D., is a fish pathologist, working with The Gondol Research Institute for Mariculture. He will be working with the Banggai field team, taking samples for analysis in the laboratorium in Gondol.

Marine Aquarists Funding Pro Bono Science

“We are very proud to be able to help sponsor this impressive international team,” says James Lawrence, editor and publisher of CORAL Magazine and head of Reef to Rainforest Media, based in Shelburne, Vermont. “We have found strong support and financial backing in the marine aquarium community to provide funds for the expedition, captive breeding research, and seed money to produce a book covering all aspects of the project.”

Those joining the June 2012 expedition to the Banggai Islands include Drs. Matt Wittenrich and Roy Yanong, as well as the Indonesian marine biologists. CORAL Senior Editor Ret Talbot will be embedded as the writer with the expedition.

“This is all being made possible by the leadership of the UF/TAL scientists working hand-in-hand with Indonesian biologists as well as the generosity of many parties,” said Lawrence. “Our fundraising campaign on Kickstarter.com brought in $33,000, more than 30% over the initial goal, thanks in large part to the readers and sponsors of Coral Magazine.”

The Book: Foreword by Dr. Gerry Allen

Members of the Banggai Rescue team not accompanying the expedition include Matt Pedersen, who is conducting small-scale breeding work with Pterapogon kauderni in Minnesota, and Lawrence, who is overseeing creation and publication of the book in Vermont.

Ichthyologist Dr. Gerald R. Allen, left, who rediscovered the species and introduced it to the aquarium world in 1995-96, and who currently works with Conservation International doing biodiversity surveys, will act as a senior advisor to the project and will write the foreword to the book.

Entitled, BANGGAI Rescue, Adventures in bringing Pterapongon kauderni back from the brink, the book is scheduled for publication in time for the annual Marine Aquarium Conference of North America in Dallas/Fort Worth, at the end of September. Sales of the book will help fund ongoing research and sustainability initiatives.