Raja Ampat, Indonesia (October 2013)
I was part of a research team that spent three weeks in Indonesia investigating the crinoid fauna of Raja Ampat as part of the NSF-funded collaborative research project "Assembling the Echinoderm Tree of Life." Raja Ampat, which means "Four Kings", is a group of islands that lies off the Bird's Head--the western tip of New Guinea. Our team also included my NSU graduate student Kristian Taylor, Prof. Greg Rouse (Scripps Institute of Oceanography, Univ. California San Diego) and his graduate student Mindi Summers, graduate student Allison Miller (University of Guam), researchers Inayat Al Hakim and Indra Vimono (Indonesian Institute of Sciences [LIPI]), and Prof. Simon Leatemia and student Rico Mailissa (University of West Papua). We selected Raja Ampat because it falls centrally within the Coral Triangle--the region spanned by New Guinea, the Philippines, island Malaysia and Indonesia that supports the most diverse tropical coral reef fauna in the world. In 18 days of diving, we recorded about 45 crinoid species, some of which may be new to science. For comparison, the entire shallow-water western Atlantic crinoid fauna, from the Carolinas to Brazil, consists of only nine species. We also collected a large number of the worm, crustacean and mollusk symbionts that live (and often feed) on crinoids, and several sea cucumber species, including one new to science.