for National Geographic News
At least 20 previously unknown species of sharks and rays have been found during a survey of local fish markets in Indonesia, scientists say.
The five-year study focused on catches from tropical seas around the Southeast Asian country, which encompasses more than 17,000 islands (Indonesia map).
So far six of the new species have been described in scientific journals. These include the Bali catshark, the Jimbaran shovelnose ray, and the Hortle's whipray (see photos of some of the species found during the survey).
Scientists are preparing to describe a further 14 of the species.
In total more than 130 species were sampled between 2001 and 2006 at 11 ports across Indonesia.
The Australian-led team behind the study says their work will provide the first ever detailed description of Indonesia's sharks and rays, including information critical to the marine animals' conservation.
Indonesia has the most diverse ray and shark fauna in the world, said study co-author William White, of the marine research division of Australia's Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO) based in Hobart, Tasmania.
The island region also has the world's largest shark and ray fishery, White said, with reported landings of more than 110,000 tons (100,000 metric tons) a year.
"Good taxonomic information is critical to managing shark and ray species, which reproduce relatively slowly and are extremely vulnerable to overfishing," White said in statement.
"Before this survey, however, there were vast gaps in our knowledge of sharks and rays in this region."
In addition to cataloging new species, the Australian team's data will be used for estimating population sizes, assessing the impacts of fishing, and developing conservation measures for at-risk species.
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