CITES Draft Decisions Give Banggai Cardinalfish a Reprieve

October 20, 2016 in General Banggai Info, Slideshow

The dazzling Banggai Cardinalfish still poses a dilemma for those who follow its populations in a remote archipelago in Indonesia. Image: Colin Foord.

The dazzling Banggai Cardinalfish still poses a dilemma for those who follow its populations in a remote archipelago in Indonesia. Image: Colin Foord.

A New Chapter for Indonesia and the Pterapogon kauderni fishery?

by Ret Talbot

originally published Oct. 5, 2016, via the Good Catch Blog

Over the past several days, I have been reporting on the 17th meeting of the Conference of the Parties (CoP17) to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). My focus has been primarily on the marine species proposed for regulation under CITES with an emphasis on the Banggai Cardinalfish, a species I have covered extensively here and elsewhere. Now that CoP17 is over, a new chapter begins for the Banggai Cardinalfish, and the following is really the beginning of that story.

On Monday, the European Union withdrew its proposal to list the Banggai Cardinalfish (Pterapogon kauderni) under CITES Appendix II.

The withdrawal occurred following Indonesia’s acceptance of a series of draft decisions, which are outlined below. On Tuesday, during the CoP17 plenary session, the withdrawal and the draft decisions were officially adopted (see video above), beginning another chance for Indonesia (and the aquarium trade) to put in place effective reforms for conservation and sustainable harvest of the species.

Species included on Appendix II are those that, although currently not threatened with extinction, may become so without trade controls. The inclusion of the Banggai Cardinalfish on Appendix II was supported by the CITES Secretariat, as well as the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the United States and numerous other Parties, NGOs and observers who believe the Banggai Cardinalfish meets the criteria for inclusion.

The proposal was opposed by Indonesia, the only range state for the species, as well as by the Lao People’s Democratic Republic (Laos) and Kuwait. Aquarium trade associations also generally opposed the proposal, although Ornamental Fish International (OFI), which had a representative present at CoP17, said “we are open to possible new information that could emerge during the CoP.”

CITES is the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora and organisms listed are subject to many trade and possession restrictions. A listing for the Banggai Cardinalfish could have led to a ban on its import into the EU.

CITES is the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora and organisms listed are subject to many trade and possession restrictions. A listing for the Banggai Cardinalfish could have led to a ban on its import into the EU.

Of the 62 proposals considered at CoP17, only six, including the proposal to include the Banggai Cardinalfish, were withdrawn.

The final adopted draft decisions agreed to by Indonesia are as follows:

Directed to Indonesia

  • 17.X1 Indonesia should implement conservation and management measures to ensure the sustainability of international trade in Pterapogon kauderni, and report progress on these measures to the Animals Committee at its 30th meeting (possibly in mid-2018).

Directed to the Secretariat

  • 17.X2 Subject to external funding, the Secretariat shall commission a study to assess the impact of international trade on the conservation status of Pterapogon kauderni and to advise on suitable conservation and management measures, as appropriate.
  • 17.X3 The Secretariat shall share the results of the study as referred to under decision 17.X2 with the Animals Committee at its 30th meeting.
Fishing dock in the Banggai Islands where the Indonesian government has struggled to enforce fishery regulations. Image: Ret Talbot.

Fishing dock in the Banggai Islands where the Indonesian government has struggled to enforce fishery regulations. Image: Ret Talbot.

Directed to the Animal Committee

  • 17.X4 The Animals Committee shall, at its 30th meeting, review the progress report submitted by Indonesia as referred to under Decision 17.X1, as well as the results of the study as referred to under Decision 17.X2, and make its recommendations to the 18th meeting of the Conference of the Parties.

Directed to donor Parties and other relevant organizations

  • 17.X5 Donor Parties and other relevant organizations, including FAO, are invited and encouraged to provide support to Indonesia and to the Secretariat for the purpose of implementing Decisions 17.X1 to 17.X3.

The 30th meeting of the CITES Animals Committee will likely be held during the spring or summer of 2018. The role of the Animals Committee is to provide technical support to decision-making regarding species of animals that are subject to CITES trade controls. The members of the Animals Committee represent the six major geographical regions (Africa, Asia, Europe, North America, Central and South America and the Caribbean, and Oceania) as well as one specialist on nomenclature. Members are elected at the CoP, with the number of regional representatives weighted according to the number of member nations or “parties” within each region and according to the regional distribution of biodiversity. COP18 will be held in 2019 in Sri Lanka.

Mixed Reactions to Decision

In a statement posted to its Facebook page, OFI praised the EU’s decision to withdraw its proposal to include the Banggai Cardinalfish on Appendix II and instead to propose the draft decisions listed above.

OFI…wholeheartedly supports the agreement that was adopted yesterday; to give Indonesia the possibility to implement conservation and management measures, with the support of the CITES Secretariat, Parties and organisations, including the FAO, in the time leading up to the 30th meeting of the CITES Animals Committee.

Svein A. Fosså, an aquarium and pet trade consultant who represented OFI at CoP17 and who is also a longstanding observer in Animals Committee meetings, was pleased with the EU’s action and the draft decisions, saying “We could hardly have expected a better outcome, for the species, for the trade and for the livelihoods in Indonesia.”

It should be noted that many in favor of the withdrawal also note the precarious nature of the species’ conservation status and even acknowledge, as the FAO does, that it meets the criteria for inclusion on Appendix II. Nonetheless, they feel a listing was not the right path forward and that the draft decisions listed above are a much better outcome than forcing a CITES listing on the only range country despite its strenuous opposition.

Wild Pterapogon kauderni: Aquarists now can choose between captive bred and wild-collected Banggai Cardinalfish, the latter usually a lower prices. Image: Shutterstock.

Wild Pterapogon kauderni: Aquarists now can choose between captive bred and wild-collected Banggai Cardinalfish, the latter usually a lower prices. Image: Shutterstock.

Not everyone was as optimistic though.

“I would say that the fact that in eight years there has not been significant improvements to stocks makes me wonder about the ability for us to help this species recover [without a CITES listing],” says Michael Tlusty of the New England Aquarium in Boston. Tlusty’s project to better monitor the aquarium trade is a winner in this year’s Wildlife Tech Challenge. “Are we preserving the status quo, or will the call for more effort and data to understand this species actually move the needle towards improvement?” Tlusty’s concerns are concerns that were also expressed by the US delegate in support of the EU proposal to grant the Banggai Cardinalfish CITES protection. As the US delegate made clear prior to the EU withdrawing its proposal, Indonesia’s efforts to better manage the species to date have proven largely ineffective.

During CoP14 in 2007, the US withdrew its own proposal to include the Banggai Cardinalfish on Appendix II, citing Indonesia’s renewed commitment at that time to better managing the trade in the species. “At that time, we were convinced that the national conservation management plan presented by Indonesia would help stem the decline of this species,” the US delegate said on Monday. “However, since then, the national conservation measures seem to be insufficient, and CITES regulation would compliment the measures that are in place by Indonesia.”

The US delegate went on to note that in the intervening years since the US withdrew its own proposal in 2007, the conservation status of the Banggai Cardinalfish under Indonesia’s management has not improved. “We would note that the FAO Expert Advisory Panel…since the first evaluation, has found now that local extinction has occurred at five sites across the Banggai Archipelago with an additional seven sites where there are declines in abundance.” [View the full intervention by the US in support of the EU proposal in the video below.]

While they may differ in their degree of optimism, both Fosså and Tlusty are hopeful that the draft decisions put in place at CoP14 will indeed move the needle in terms of the conservation status of the species. Although we likely won’t know the results until the Animals Committee reviews the progress report submitted by Indonesia, as well as the results of the study commissioned by the Secretariat regarding the conservation status of the species, there is some comfort in the fact that there is now at least an international framework with set deadlines in place. Perhaps it will insure that we don’t see a hat trick at CoP18 insofar as withdrawals of Banggai Cardinalfish proposals are concerned.

CORRECTION: An earlier draft of this entry said Svein A. Fosså sits on the Animals Committee. Fosså is an observer in Animals Committee meetings, but not a formal member. He intends to be present at AC30.

2016 CITES Results for Aquarium Fish and Inverts

October 20, 2016 in General Banggai Info, Slideshow

As originally published at Reef2Rainforest.com

Clarion Angelfish, Holacanthus clarionensis, is a somewhat rare species in the aquarium trade, and is now afforded CITES Appendix II trade regulations. Image by Elias Levy, cropped and rotated, CC-BY-2.0

Clarion Angelfish, Holacanthus clarionensis, is a somewhat rare species in the aquarium trade, and is now afforded CITES Appendix II trade regulations. Image by Elias Levy/CC-BY-2.0

October 13, 2016
UPDATE: New aquatic species of interest to the aquarium trade that have just been proposed for CITES Listings include:

• Clarion Angelfish (Holacanthus clarionensis)
• All members of the Family Nautilidae (nautiluses, six species)
• Potamotrygon spp. (freshwater stingrays, including Potamotrygon motoro)


In late September, just days before CITES CoP17 (Conference of Parties Meeting 17) got underway, we shared the proposals to list 4 aquarium-related species under the convention. Listings, and the appendix a species is listed within, can have wide-ranging trade implications, from simply applying trade reporting requirements to outright bans on trade. The CoP17 decisions are in, and will affect every aquarium-related group or species that had been up for discussion.

CITES CoP17 Aquarium Species Recap

Proposed: Include the Ocellate River Stingray, Potamotrygon motoro, in Appendix II, proposed by Bolivia

Decided: The proposal was withdrawn by Bolivia. Instead, as reported by Svein A. Fosså, “Bolivia will instead list the species in [Appendix III] as soon as possible. Colombia has earlier at this CoP announced that they will list several stingrays in [Appendix III]; and Brazil all Potamotrygon spp. in [Appendix III]. This is in accordance with several previous recommendations from various CITES bodies.”

Proposed: Include the Clarion Angelfish, Holacanthus clarionensis, in Appendix II, proposed by Mexico

Decided: Despite the CITES Secretariat recommending against this listing, it was “Accepted [with 69 Parties voting in favour, 21 against and 15 abstaining]. ”

Proposed: Include the Banggai Cardinalfish, Pterapogon kauderni, in Appendix II, proposed by the European Union

Decided: The proposal was “Withdrawn. Instead five draft decisions, contained in CoP17 Com. I. 32 were agreed by consensus. [Rec.14].” We’ll share more on this story in a follow-up from Ret Talbot.

Proposed: Include the Family Nautilidae in Appendix II, proposed by Fiji, India, Palau, and the United States of America

Decided: The proposal to list all Nautilidae under Appendix II was “Accepted [with 84 Parties voting in favour, 9 against and 10 abstaining]. [Rec.14].”

As noted in the official recap press release of CoP17, “Changes to the CITES Appendices, Resolutions and Decisions enter into force 90 days after the CoP.”

This means that starting Monday, January 2, 2017, international trade in Potamotrygon spp. will require either an export permit or certificate of origin when being imported. Meanwhile, trade in the Clarion Angelfish, whether captive-bred in Indonesia or wild-caught in Mexico, will require CITES permits akin to those currently required to trade in all stony corals and wild seahorses; the same will become true for Nautilids.

CITES Appendix III listings for Potamotrygon spp. by multiple countries will add a new layer of complexity to the trade in freshwater stingrays. Potamotrygon motoro shown here. Image by Jim Capaldi, retouched, CC BY 2.0

CITES Appendix III listings for Potamotrygon spp. by multiple countries will add a new layer of complexity to the trade in freshwater stingrays. Potamotrygon motoro shown here. Image by Jim Capaldi, retouched, CC BY 2.0

CITES Setting Aside Science, Preferring Sentiment?

Svein A. Fosså attended CoP17 as as an observer for Ornamental Fish International (OFI), and has attended all CoPs and most Animals Committee meetings since CoP11 in 2000. Reporting as-it-happened to friends and associates via social media, Fosså shared concerns about the process of listings and the way CITES decisions were made this year.

“Yesterday’s long working day ended in a hectic night session where several listing proposals were pushed through in very little time, with next to no debate and zero possibility for NGOs to [comment] on most issues.

“Reptile keepers and traders have had a very bad CoP with lots of listings that hardly meet any scientific listing criteria, and where CITES is unlikely to give any conservation benefits whatsoever. The plentiful animal rights lobbyists had the more reason to rejoice, with their [loud] cheers resounding in the hall every time a new species was banned from trade,” lamented Fosså.

We relay his concerns regarding the reptile listings, as Fosså feels that the listing of the Clarion Angelfish under Appendix II may be another example of a comparable failure at CoP17. “The Mexican endemic species Holacanthus clarionensis suffered a fate similar to the reptiles. [Everyone] who cares about science as a foundation for CITES, there under the CITES Secretariat, IUCN/TRAFFIC and FAO had recommended against this listing. In the hectic late night session it was, however, voted in and agreed with more than 2/3 majority, without any debate.”

In discussing these observations recently, Fosså believes that “Most of your readers will not understand to what grave extent it now is being used to ban trade on animal rights grounds and emotions. It is perverse when the cheers are [loud] every time a species is up-listed (because CITES measures have failed), but success stories where CITES have worked (like the Peregrine Falcon this year) are prevented from being down-listed to [Appendix II], where it now truly belongs.”

Captive-bred Clarion Angelfish from Bali Aquarich, like this specimen imported by Carolina Aquatics, will now be subjected to CITES permit requirements in order to legally entry the country. Image courtesy Carolina Aquatics

Captive-bred Clarion Angelfish from Bali Aquarich, like this specimen imported by Carolina Aquatics, will now be subjected to CITES permit requirements in order to legally enter the country. Image courtesy Carolina Aquatics

 

Large scale cultivation of the Clarion Angelfish by Bali Aquarich could prove an interesting wrinkle for trade regulation, considering that Mexico (who proposed the Appendix II listing) is the source country for wild Clarion Angelfishes. Image courtesy Bali Aquarich.

Large-scale cultivation of the Clarion Angelfish by Bali Aquarich could prove an interesting wrinkle for trade regulation, considering that Mexico (which proposed the Appendix II listing) is the source country for wild Clarion Angelfishes. Image courtesy Bali Aquarich.

 

Nautilids and Banggais – CITES Got It Right?

The decision to list Nautilids under Appendix II seems to have wide-ranging support. The Center for Biological Diversity issued a press release supporting the decision, and Fosså noted that OFI was ready to “actively support the proposal to list the Nautilidae in [Appendix II],” but again there was no opportunity to officially comment.

Trade in Nautilus spp., such as this N. belauensis from Palau, will now be regulated under CITES Appendix II. The curio/shell trade is mainly cited as the cause for population declines of Nautilids. Image by Manuae - CC BY-SA 3.0

Trade in Nautilus spp., such as this N. belauensis from Palau, will now be regulated under CITES Appendix II. The curio/shell trade is mainly cited as the cause for population declines of Nautilids. Image by ManuaeCC BY-SA 3.0

OFI also released an official statement in support of the ultimate Banggai Cardinalfish compromise, which the UK’s Ornamental Aquatic Trade Association (OATA) quickly endorsed.

“The situation for the Banggai Cardinal Fish has been of major concern to OFI for many years, although not necessarily for the same reasons as suggested by CITES CoP17 prop. 46.
We are dealing with a species with a very restricted distribution, exposed to a multitude of threats. In addition to the collection for the ornamental fish trade, which has shown a decreasing trend in later years, these threats include destruction of the macro and micro habitats, due to destructive fishing methods for food fish and selective targeting of the host sea anemones and sea urchins. Use as feeder fish in mariculture of food fish has been reported to be an added threat.

“Because of the complexity of the threat factors for the species, we could not agree to CITES Appendix II listing being an effective tool for protecting the species.
Through the unfortunate experience with the listing of the seahorses 14 years ago, we are in no doubt that Indonesia with a listing of the Banggai Cardinal Fish most likely would loose much or possibly even all of their trade to breeding operations in non-range countries; and that most likely with very little or no benefit whatsoever to the wild populations in the Banggai Archipelago. It could also not be ruled out that a listing would have an overall negative effect on the conservation of the species.

“OFI therefore wholeheartedly supports the agreement that was adopted yesterday; to give Indonesia the possibility to implement conservation and management measures, with the support of the CITES Secretariat, Parties and organisations, including the FAO, in the time leading up to the 30th meeting of the CITES Animals Committee.”

We encourage you to read Ret Talbot’s more detailed examination of the Banggai Plan enacted at CoP17, and three years from now, we hope to report back on the results of this plan as required to occur at CITES CoP18.

Banggai Rescue – Sneak Preview Video

July 19, 2013 in Kickstarter Updates, Project Updates, Slideshow

Set to launch at the Marine Aquarium Conference of North America (MACNA 2013) in South Florida, The Banggai Cardinalfish book represents almost two years’ of work and the involvement of hundreds of saltwater aquarists, marine biologists, aquarium industry leaders, and many conservation-minded supporters.

The Banggai Cardinalfish, 304 pages, Hardcover $44.95, Quality Softcover $34.95.

The Banggai Cardinalfish, 304 pages, Hardcover $44.95, Quality Softcover $34.95.

For a preview of the book, see this video by Matt Pedersen that runs through the entire 304 pages in about a minute and shows the scope of the international Banggai Rescue Project.

The book will be distributed by Julian Sprung and Two Little Fishies in partnership with Reef to Rainforest Media, publishers of CORAL and AMAZONAS Magazines.

“This book should make us all proud to be marine aquarists,” says Editor & Publisher James Lawrence. “The marine aquarium community has rallied to respond to a situation in which a uniquely beautiful and fascinating fish has been threatened by unregulated collection in a remote archipelago in Indonesia. We have unwittingly been part of the problem, but now we can feel that we are part of the solution.”

“Perhaps the most important outcome of the Project so far has been the collaboration between our science team and their counterparts in Indonesia who are working to reform the Banggai Cardinal fishery while supporting the livelihoods of indigenous fishers in their own waters.”

Book Credits::

Ret Talbot • Matt Pedersen • Matthew L. Wittenrich, Ph.D.

Foreword by Dr. Gerald R. Allen

with Martin A. Moe, Jr., Roy Yanong, V.M.D., and Thomas Waltzek, D.V.M., Ph.D.

Publishing Team:

Edited by James M. Lawrence

Designed by Linda Provost

Production: Anne Linton Elston

Copyediting: Louise Watson, Alex Bunten

Business Manager: Judith R. Billard

Project Corporate Sponsors

Books will be available at MACNA, August 30 to September 1 at the Two Little Fishies booth.

Announcements coming soon about how to order the book.

The Banggai Triangle

July 10, 2012 in Project Updates, Slideshow, The Expedition

Dr. Matthew L. Wittenrich, Ph.D. and a local fisher at Bone Baru village in the Banggai Islands discuss the Banggai cardinalfish fishery while consulting a chart

Dr. Matthew L. Wittenrich, Ph.D. and a local fisher at Bone Baru village in the Banggai Islands discuss the Banggai cardinalfish fishery while consulting a chart

The Banggai cardinalfish is a unique fish for many reasons, not the least of which is the extremely restricted geographic range this species has historically occupied. This is a fact the Banggai Rescue international science team saw firsthand today as we travelled by speedboat from our field headquarters in Bone Baru village in the north of the Banggai Archipelago to Bone Bone village in the southeast, Toropot village in the southwest, and then back to Bone Baru.

“Within the Coral Triangle, recognized as a global priority for conservation, lies a much smaller, lesser known triangle,” remarks Banggai Rescue international science team member Dr. Matthew Wittenrich, Ph.D., as our boat completes the last leg of what he has just coined ‘the Banggai triangle.’

“Marked by three not-so-distant villages, the Banggai triangle is incredibly important in the future conservation of Pterapogon kauderni,” muses Wittenrich, who points out the area contained by the Banggai Triangle encompasses an area smaller than the footprint of an average US county. “The Banggai triangle holds more than seventy percent of the world’s population of wild Banggai cardinalfish.”

As our boat alters course slightly to quarter a building swell, the late afternoon light bathes the interior of the cabin in a golden hue. Although tired from a full day on (and in) the water, the fact we just covered the bulk of the Banggai cardinalfish fishery in a single day is not lost on any of us. Given that the geographic extent of the fishery is fairly consistent with the geographic extent of the fish’s endemic range, the potential impact of the fishery on the species is profound. This is especially the case given the lack of effective fishery management, the level of illegal fishing we have observed, and what we have seen in the way of collateral damage to appropriate Banggai cardinalfish habitat secondary to destructive fishing practices (e.g., blast fishing and cyanide fishing).

Local children look on as Dr. Matthew L. Wittenrich, Ph.D. photographs Banggai cardinalfish in a less-than-pristine canal running through Monsongan village in the Banggai Islands

Local children look on as Dr. Matthew L. Wittenrich, Ph.D. photographs Banggai cardinalfish in a less-than-pristine canal running through Monsongan village in the Banggai Islands

“In virtually every example I can think of where an animal is collected in high numbers,” says Wittenrich, “there is typically somewhere in the remote reaches of its native range where the species exists in a relatively ‘natural’ state. The Banggai cardinalfish is being exploited through the entirety of its range.”

While we are confident the samples we have collected throughout the fishery will yield concrete results that will help us better understand the species and the virus which is contributing to well-documented mortality in trade, our attempts to better understand the fishery itself by conducting interviews with fishers, fishery managers and others involved with aspects of the Banggai cardinalfish trade has, at this point, yielded more questions than answers.

Can the Banggai cardinalfish fishery in the Banggai Islands sustain current levels of fishing for the marine aquarium trade, especially given other pressures on the resource such as illegal and destructive fishing practices and land-based threats like uncontrolled clearing of native forests for agriculture? Will the recommended reduced monthly quotas proposed by local stakeholders be adopted? If the quotas are adopted, will the resources be available to enforce those quotas? Are the recommended quotas consistent with what the science shows to be sustainable harvest levels? What impacts has the introduction of culled, confiscated and captive bred Banggai cardinalfish had on the naturally occurring populations?

We could go on and on.

Banggai Rescue International Science Team Member Yunaldi Yahya, M.Sc. at Bone Bone Village

Banggai Rescue International Science Team Member Yunaldi Yahya, M.Sc. at Bone Bone Village

The Banggai Islands are a place of sublime beauty, and while we no doubt appreciate this splendor as we close in on the rugged magnificence of Banggai Island and the promise of another delicious dinner provided by our hosts in Bone Baru, we’d be dishonest if we did not acknowledge today has left each of us somewhat disheartened. By no means are we suggesting the Banggai cardinalfish, its fishery or the fishers and fisher communities who depend on it are a lost cause, but there is much work to do. We, the Banggai Rescue International Science Team, now more than ever feel a deep responsibility to contribute meaningfully to the ongoing dialog about this very special fish and, in turn, the aquarium trade that has, most recently, put this species on the map.

Stay tuned, as you can rest assured there is lots more to come.

To see more photos and brief updates from the team in the field, be sure to “like” the Banggai Rescue Facebook Page.

Fish Quarantine and Inspection Agency

Banggai Triangle

Observing Wild Banggai Cardinalfish in Banggai Islands!

July 3, 2012 in Project Updates, Slideshow, The Expedition

A Banggai cardinalfish observed in shallow water by the Banggai Rescue International Science Team off Banggai Island

A Banggai cardinalfish observed in shallow water by the Banggai Rescue International Science Team off Banggai Island

The KM. Valentine 2, a presumably seaworthy ferry with a perceptible list softened somewhat by a cheery complement of passengers and crew, slipped its berth amid the rush and bustle of Luwuk Harbour at just after 9 pm. Bound for Salakan, the capital of the Banggai Islands, the ferry’s three decks are abuzz with activity. Banggai Rescue’s international expeditionary team gathers at the stern beneath an inky black sky punctuated by a swath of bright stars. Only one member of the team, Yunaldi Yahya, M.Sc., had spent time previously in the Banggai Archipelago, so the rest of us are a bit like kids on Christmas Eve.

After so much time dedicated to studying and working with the Banggai cardinalfish, it is hard to believe it is nearly here—the moment we will see the fish in its namesake isles.

The Banggai Islands, a vestigial set of microcontinental plates severed from the northern extent of New Guinea, collided with Sulawesi sometime in the Late Miocene…or so we’ve read. This geologic fender-bender created a deep ocean trench between mainland Sulawesi and the Banggai Islands, and this deepwater is thought to be one of the barriers that has contained the Banggai cardinalfish within the Banggai archipelago. For most of the Team, crossing this trench is significant, for it represents a concrete demarcation between the wild Banggais we had already observed outside the species’ endemic range and the ones we will soon be seeing living within their native habitat.

Arriving in Salakan a little after one a.m., the Team, bleary-eyed and luggage-laden, slouched down dirt streets in a sleepy haze to a nearby hotel for a few hours of sleep before meeting up with our contacts from Fisheries in the morning. Thanks to the work and relationships established through our host organization—Yayasan Alam Indonesia Lestari (LINI)—we have a local Fisheries’ speedboat at our disposal throughout our stay in the Banggai Islands, making it possible to cover a large portion of the archipelago in a compressed timeframe.

While no doubt tired after the long trip from Bali to Sulawesi and eventually onward to the Banggai Islands, it’s no problem getting out of bed at first light. We are finally here—in the Banggai Islands. Re-tracing our steps back to Salakan’s small harbour, we eagerly boarded a remarkably comfortable and fast boat for the trip around the northern extent of the island of Peleng to the village of Bone Baru on Banggai Island. Bone Baru has become the de facto epicenter of the legal Banggai cardinalfish fishery, although, as we have previously reported and will discuss at length in the book, the majority of the actual fishery remains illegal.

U.S.-based scientists and Banggai Rescue International Science Team members Roy Yanong, V.M.D., Tom Waltzek, VMD, Ph.D. and Matthew L. Wittenrich, Ph.D. arrive in Bone Baru ready to dive in (literally)

U.S.-based scientists and Banggai Rescue International Science Team members Roy Yanong, V.M.D., Tom Waltzek, VMD, Ph.D. and Matthew L. Wittenrich, Ph.D. arrive in Bone Baru ready to dive in (literally)

Making fast to the long pier extending from the village’s main street, we disembark and made our way into town. Invited to join some of the locals for decadently sweet hot coffee and the always amusingly awkward conversation resulting from loose translations, gesticulations and plenty of laughter, we immediately fall in love with Bone Baru and its residents whose kindness and generosity appears to know no bounds. This will be a very good base of operations for the Banggai Rescue international science team while in the Banggai Islands.

As charmed as we are with the village, and as much as we are enjoying getting to know its residents, we’d be lying if we didn’t acknowledge our burning desire to get in the water, where we are confident we will come face-to-face in short order with the objects of our study. Happy to oblige, a few local fishers accommodate our request, and soon we are donning masks, snorkels and fins and heading out over the shallow grass flats and sandy bottom of Bone Baru’s shallow bay.

Within moments, the first populations of Banggai cardinalfish come into view. Hosting around coral colonies and anemones living within the grass beds, it is difficult to move on from one grouping to the next. The groups themselves are not terribly large, but each provides an opportunity to assess, observe and simply be enchanted by the fish’s distinctive (and, anthropogenically-speaking, “cute”) pulsing movements closely choreographed with a persistent gentle swell and the undulations of the long blades of seagrasses against a kaleidoscopic backdrop of shoals of small fishes surging through the sun-slivered shallows.

Bone Baru has become the de facto epicenter of the Banggai Cardinalfish fishery and is the field headquarters of the Banggai Rescue International Science Team while in the Banggai Archipelago

Bone Baru has become the de facto epicenter of the Banggai Cardinalfish fishery and is the field headquarters of the Banggai Rescue International Science Team while in the Banggai Archipelago

As mesmerized as we are, the need to return to work soon gets the best of us. A couple local fishers are kind enough to show us the various collection techniques they have traditionally used to fish for Banggais. For anyone familiar with the species and its behavior, it will not come as a surprise to hear us report on how easy it is to collect very large numbers of this fish in extremely short order. Of course this is one of the primary concerns about the fishery and its sustainability. While there is a proposed quota of 15,000 Banggai cardinalfish leaving the Banggai Islands through the Fish Quarantine and Inspection office per month, we know from our previous interviews with exporters and middlemen in both Bali and Java that the actual numbers are far larger.

Still, we are encouraged to learn from the fishers in Bone Baru that there have been changes to the fishery that are moving it toward greater sustainability. The question, of course, is are these changes significant enough and happening quickly enough to positively impact the endemic population.

We are very much looking forward to the upcoming days of observing and sampling Banggai cardinalfish populations from across the species’ endemic range. Of course it will be important to see if we can identify the Banggai cardinalfish iridovirus (BCIV) in wild populations within the Banggai Islands, but it will also be noteworthy to hear anecdotal reports from a wide variety of fishers about the fishery. Relying in part on team member Yunaldi Yahya’s experience mapping Banggai cardinalfish distribution and densities throughout the islands, we will hopefully have a rare, first-hand look at places where the species is doing better and, unfortunately, places where local extirpation has occurred.

Stay tuned for more information from the Team, and thanks again for your invaluable support of this important project!

 

Luwuk Harbor Population of Banggai Cardinalfish Observed

June 28, 2012 in Project Updates, Slideshow, The Expedition

Dr. Matthew L. Wittenrich photographs Banggai Cardinalfish in Luwuk Harbor, Sulawesi.

Dr. Matthew L. Wittenrich photographs Banggai Cardinalfish in Luwuk Harbor, Sulawesi.

Banggai Rescue Science Team Field Report from Luwuk, Sulawesi – June 2012 –

As we’ve come to expect, it didn’t take long for U.S.-based scientists who are part of the Banggai Rescue (BR) international science team to find Banggai cardinalfish in Sulawesi. Upon arriving in Luwuk (Central Sulawesi) by increasingly smaller aircraft from Denpasar in Bali, the U.S.-based BR team members had most of a day to kill before meeting up with their Indonesian counterparts and heading by ferry to the Banggai Islands. What to do?

Look for Banggais, of course!

An introduced population of Banggai cardinalfish in Luwuk Harbour is oft-cited in the literature, and we suspected it would not be hard to find. So we arranged for a car and driver, loaded up the gear and headed out armed with pictures of the species on our phones and a rough approximation of local and trade names. We stopped at several places inquiring about the fish, and while the language barrier certainly exacerbated the situation, the fact a couple of Americans wanted to see a small fish in the busy and polluted harbour proper as opposed to diving on a nearby near-pristine reef was our biggest obstacle. Finally, with a little more directive leadership, we turned away from the road headed out of town toward the pristine reefs and instead made our way down to Luwuk’s port proper.

The harbour, chiselled against a backdrop of dense mountain forest, was hot with a miasma of odors colliding beneath a blue sky fringed by cumulus clouds skirting the horizon. Wide wood planked piers cut amidst a tapestry of brightly colored ferries and fishing boats, small traditional craft and a handful of government vessels. Flotsam sloshed in the shallows where freshwater runoff mixed with the stagnant backwater against the stone quay. Plastic bottles, foil wrappers and other sundry trash items were punctuated by the occasional fish carcus and a virtual Smörgåsbord of discarded food waste

Perhaps we wouldn’t get in the water here.

Our team, most of us glaringly white and no doubt wide-eyed by the sudden assault on the senses, elicited curious stares from locals who clearly don’t see a lot of tourists poking around the Harbour with cameras. Undaunted, we approached the water’s edge with eager anticipation. From several meters away, the blackspine sea urchin clumps were easy to see. A little closer, and there was no doubt there were fish hovering about the urchin clumps. A little closer…and…definitely Banggai cardinalfish…

…and lots of them!

While these were not the first Banggais we have seen in the wild in Indonesia (we’ve observed three other wild populations in Bali), seeing them here was still a thrill. After studying this animal for so long and from so many different perspectives, all of us could barely contain our enthusiasm. Pointing and talking in excited bursts, snapping photographs of what could only be described as severely degraded habitat, we must have provided Luwuk’s monthly quota of entertainment in a few short moments.

What is often referred to as a small population of “unknown origins” in Luwuk Harbor, appeared to be alive and well, and depending upon how one defines small, it appears anything but. As we travelled around the harbor, we consistently saw Banggai cardinalfish sheltering around urchins less than a meter from shore in shallow water. While there is some speculation in the literature that this could be an endemic population, the latest research (both scientific and sociological) seems to point to an introduction by traders in Banggai cardinalfish destined for the marine aquarium trade.

As previously reported, the Team has now observed two of the four or five sites where we have heard introduced populations of Banggais are thriving. In addition, the team observed Banggais in a location in North Bali we have not seen cited in the literature. These introduced populations–especially the now infamous Lembeh Straits population to the north–have, of course, been a significant talking point in the ongoing debate about the species and its conservation status. With introduced populations doing so well even in areas with such abysmal water quality, could this truly be a species on the verge of collapse? This is a line of reasoning put forth by some, including some members of the Indonesian Ministry of Marine Affairs and Fisheries Agency for Marine and Fisheries Research we have interviewed in Indonesia as part of our research.

Of course, as others have pointed out in the literature, this is a complex question. Without looking at extensive population data and understanding the significance and origins of introduced populations versus endemic populations–without understanding the genetic diversity and the genetic flow (or lack thereof) of sub-populations of the species–a rush to judgement could be very damaging to the species’ future. As has been frequently reported, this is a species believed to have an extremely limited endemic distribution. When one combines this with the fish’s high site fidelity and mouthbrooding characteristics (e.g., individuals don’t move very far from their parents throughout their entire life cycle), re-stocking (especially if the stock represent trader’s culled fish as is believed to be the case in at least one situation) or in-situ culturing initiatives could have deleterious impacts on the species overall genetic diversity. Throw the virus we are here to research into the equation, and fishery aside, it could easily be argued this a fish that needs a management plan to ensure its fitness into the future.

Filled with renewed excitement for the Banggai Rescue Project and our role in that Project, the U.S.-based team members headed back to the rendezvous point with our Indonesian counterparts. Tonight we are off to the Banggai Islands by ferry.

Stay tuned, as you can rest assured there is lots more to come.

To see more photos and brief updates from the team in the field, be sure to “like” the Banggai Rescue Facebook Page.