In the heart of the picturesque Riau Islands in Indonesia, a multi-national research team of scientists from Indonesia, Australia and the United States is on an exciting expedition: to uncover the hidden home of one of the world’s most endangered and mysterious creatures. For – Clown Wedgefish. Clown Wedgefish (rhynchobatus cookie) belongs to the family rhinidae, which includes fish that have a distinctive flattened body, resembling a combination of a shark and a ray. Their most distinctive feature is their broad, wedge-shaped head, which gives them their common name. One of the most captivating aspects is its intricate color; They often have a unique pattern of dark spots and stripes, resembling clown-like markings, hence their common name. This complex coloration aids in camouflage and helps them blend into their sandy or muddy marine habitats.
This elusive creature has long escaped scientific investigation, with sightings limited to the fish markets of Singapore and Jakarta. However, the recent discovery of social media posts by local fishermen indicated the clown wedgefish’s possible habitat in the Riau Islands, southwest of Indonesia – a revelation that has inspired this ambitious research mission. Now a group of dedicated researchers from Charles Darwin University (CDU), the University of Southern Mississippi (USM), and the Universitas Maritim Raja Ali Haji (UMRAH) are determined to uncover its secrets and protect its future. Dr Peter Kaine, Senior Research Fellow at CDU, underlines the vital importance of their mission in formulating a conservation strategy for this endangered species. “Clown wedgefish are incredibly rare and their numbers are in decline due to significant impacts from fishing,” Kaine told Phys.Org. “Our research is trying to understand the habitat of clown wedgefish, for example if they live on coral reefs, mangroves, or sand. This information will help us develop conservation and management plans for the species.”
The expedition recently made its way to Singkep Island in Indonesia – one of just four suspected strongholds of the clown whalefish. USM Associate Professor Dr. Nicole Phillips and graduate student Emma Humphreys led the team in employing targeted environmental DNA water sampling techniques to detect the presence of clown wedgefish in the area. The team carefully circumnavigated the island, located east of Sumatra, and collected an extensive collection of specimens from the coastal area and neighboring small islands. Dr. Phillips explains his approach, “During our fieldwork we were able to collect 100 samples from 33 sites around the island. Fish release DNA through their scales, mucus and feces and this is released into the environment. “There will be water samples that will be tested to see if they contain the DNA of the clown wedgefish. This will help us determine the habitat of the clown wedgefish.”
The research not only contributes to our understanding of the clown wedgefish but also helps Ph.D. Also supports. Project of CDU student Ms. Benaya Shimon. His work takes a deep dive into understanding the geographic range, habitat, and threats facing this elusive species. “The sensitivity of the species and the intensity of fishing require strong research to inform conservation plans and regulations for its management,” Ms Simeon stressed. “Indonesia is dominated by small-scale fishermen, whose dependence on marine resources is high. It is important to save the clown wedgefish as a unique species to these islands.” As part of her PhD, Ms Simeon plans to undertake more field trips by connecting with local fishermen and traders to gain valuable insight into their interactions with the species. In addition, the research team has enlisted the support of local community members who keep a vigilant eye on the presence of clown wedgefish in bustling local fish markets.
This international collaboration, supported by the Save Our Seas Foundation, aspires to secure a brighter future for the clown wedgefish. With each water sample and field expedition, these dedicated scientists are getting closer to uncovering the secrets of the clown wedgefish’s hidden world, ensuring that this elusive creature will continue to add to the rich tapestry of life in our oceans for generations to come. Remain a part of.