By Novar Caine
Can it be? Good news coming out of Bali? In recent days we learned not of yet another tragedy or health scare or government warning people off Indonesia due to threats, but of the discovery of new species of fish and coral.
This may not be momentous news but the announcement by Conservation International, an environmental organisation based in the United States that at one time came under fire for perceived links to the oil industry, that eight new fish species and one new type of coral have been found in waters surrounding Bali underscores the rich diversity that Indonesia almost alone lays claim to.
The group’s scientists have been combing Bali’s waters – long since the proffered sites of scuba divers – and unearthed these curious and previously unknown creatures. Now added to the vast and growing library of lifeforms on Earth are fish belonging to eight genera which have yet to be named; and a type of bubble coral.
Divers found the fish and coral while conducting a kind of inventory of what was in the waters off Bali’s northeast coast, along the famous dive site of Tulamben, home to an American ship sunk by the Japanese during World War II and itself a major attraction, and also in the south, along Nusa Dua. It shows that for many people there is as much to see beneath the waves in Bali as there is on land.
There is much yet to be found in Indonesia, both flora and fauna, as scientists work on adding to the country’s catalogue of creatures. But the finds also come at a time when many elements of Indonesia’s make-up are fighting for their survival. The central government has pledged to save our critically endangered orangutan, for instance, but there’s little evidence to suggest the great ape is any better off now than it was 12 months ago, when its numbers were in steep decline due to the widespread practice of capturing them for sale in animal markets, and continued illegal logging and clearing in forested areas that form the orangutan’s only native habitat.
The Sumatran tiger is equally imperilled as are many other species across the country. Regrettably, Bali no longer has its tiger.
In our seas, international demand for aquariums means reef areas are systematically chemically bombed to snare decorative fish, a cruel tradition that temporarily stuns the creatures so they can be scooped up; it later leads to organ failure in the fish, and it kills coral.
It’s great making new discoveries in our animal kingdom, but it doesn’t do anything to preserve those we already know about and which are in severe danger of extinction. It doesn’t even seem to add to the collective local conscience that tropical Indonesia is home to an incredible array of wildlife, all of which need protection, from industry and those intent on breaking laws for their own gain.
President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has vowed to protect species in this country; but as with many other such promises, there are no tangible results. Yes, we have a great many other problems facing us, but we can’t ignore the plight of our wildlife because we’re – seemingly – spending all our energies on fighting corruption, building infrastructure of luring foreign investment and taking care of our large numbers of poor.
We have conservation laws, after all, and ministries with officials who are responsible for their upholding. All too often, however, what is not deemed to be of immediate importance is swept aside in favour of more pressing matters.
The progressive Bali government, under the helmsmanship of Governor I Made Mangku Pastika, must continue its conservation efforts and show the country that we are concerned about our creatures’ survival. We must keep on monitoring the activities of those living along our shorelines, for example, to ensure people do not engage in destructive fish-bombing. And we must maintain our efforts to save the endangered Bali starling. So far there have been encouraging signs, as the bird’s previously plummeting numbers have started to rise.
Finding new species as we allow others to die – often actively engaging in their demise – is an affront to all the Earth’s creatures, including ourselves.