"Exploring Freshwater Biodiversity" webinar was held in collaboration with the Department of Biology, Faculty of Mathematics and Natural Sciences (FMIPA), Hasanuddin University (UNHAS), Makassar, Sulawesi and Sulawesi Keepers on 21-22 November 2022 via online zoom meeting and was attended by more than 100 participants from various elements of society including scientists, researchers, academics, practitioners, professionals, students and activists of non-governmental organizations.

In the opening remarks, the Head of the Department of Biology, FMIPA, UNHAS, Dr. Magdalena Ritaay, M.Sc., highlighted that the event is momentum for all of us because the biodiversity of freshwater in Sulawesi is our responsibility. Raising awareness is crucial, and cooperation with various partners is an excellent step to realizing the importance of maintaining biodiversity. Magdalena also mentioned that Sulawesi is part of the Wallacea region, which has high and unique biodiversity. Unfortunately, there are not many scientific publications related to biodiversity in Sulawesi, so the sharing session can be the first step toward sustainable international collaboration in the future and provide benefits for biodiversity in Sulawesi.

The leader of Sulawesi Keepers, Markéta Rejlková, opened this sharing session with the hope that what Sulawesi Keepers is doing to protect biodiversity in Sulawesi can provide benefits and open many collaborations with local institutions. “We consider it important to deepen the relationship with local people and institutions and get to know each other better. We will continue to work together with our partners in Indonesia. We have agreed on areas where our interests clearly intersect.” said Markéta.

Biodept's sharing session with Sulawesi Keepers

The sharing session was divided into two parts in separate days, each with presentations and following discussions.

The presentation delivered by Jiří Patoka (Sulawesi Keepers & Czech University of Life Sciences) highlighted the cooperation that has been carried out with several colleagues in Indonesia and has produced very beneficial outputs. Jiří talked mainly about invasive crayfish (Cherax quadricarinatus) which could pose a significant risk to native freshwater biota in Sulawesi if not accompanied by public literacy. Even if this species is considered valuable by producers and traders, there is no doubt that it is an invader with a high invasion potential capable of causing homogenization of biodiversity, at least on a local scale. For this reason, aquaculture and its introduction into the waters of Sulawesi are not desirable. “At this point, we strongly urge local farmers and other stakeholders to stop the introduction of this species into new areas of Sulawesi. Have a sense of responsibility and do not contribute to the destruction of your magnificent endemic animals and wildlife in general!”, Jiří said.

Presentation by Jiří Patoka

Surya Gentha Akmal (Sulawesi Keepers & Czech University of Life Sciences), the second speaker, explained by quoting National Geographic terminology that Sulawesi is like a natural laboratory where several faunas are found that have hybridized or created new biological characteristics. Gentha further said that there is no island as unique as Sulawesi. Apart from its shape, this island apparently holds endemic flora and fauna that cannot be found anywhere else in the world. Researchers claim that the uniqueness is due to the mixing of two biotas, Asia in the west and Australia in the east. Moreover, several researchers claim that the eleventh-largest island in the world is a hybrid zone with the fastest evolutionary rate. On the other hand, Gentha emphasized that science is clear. Our chances of halting and reversing biodiversity loss are narrowing by the minute. The impacts associated with the degradation of nature are becoming clearer in all regions – from pandemics to species extinctions and declining ecosystem services – and are expected to worsen if we continue our lives as usual.

Presentation by Surya Gentha Akmal

The speaker on the second day was Markéta Rejlková from Ostrava Zoo, leader of Sulawesi Keepers, who showed at least a fraction of species richness and then focused on the results of her team's recent expedition to Sulawesi. Markéta describes Sulawesi as a snail paradise and a unique place on Earth – unfortunately, covered by the inevitable curtain. “I have seen flowerhorns in action and it makes me sad. But I still believe we can do something about it. At the very least, learning how to breed endangered species successfully and in the long term – and knowing their natural environment is an irreplaceable basis for this. Mutual cooperation and the exchange of knowledge and experience is how Sulawesi Keepers fight species extinction,” Markéta said.

Presentation by Markéta Rejlková

Muhammad Iqram, researcher at the Zoology Lab, Department of Biology, FMIPA, UNHAS, who was the moderator, said that networking and collaboration are needed so the students and the general public can learn from many experts around the world who have explored freshwater biodiversity in their homeland, Sulawesi. “We really appreciate the Sulawesi Keepers for taking the time to discuss with students, researchers, lecturers, practitioners, and the general public in Sulawesi in particular and Indonesia in general,” concluded Iqram.

What’s next?

We are already hard at work on plans for joint projects with students from UNHAS.

Who else could better research and protect the Sulawesi freshwater fauna?

Stay tuned for updates!

Surya Gentha Akmal