The ASCLME Region exhibits a great diversity of life. It is estimated that less than 50% of this biodiversity has been described (given a formal scientific name).
Some of the more well-known species include:
Although coelacanth fossils had been found dating as far back as 410 million years ago, the fish was presumed extinct until the first recorded specimen of modern times was discovered near East London, South Africa in 1938. Since then, over 200 coelacanths are known to have been caught, most around the Comoros islands. Scientists have discovered that the average weight of the coelacanth is 80 kg, that they can reach up to 2m in length and may live as long as 80 to 100 years. The coelacanth, Latimeria chalumnae, has paired, rounded fins which move in the same way that four legged animals move their limbs. Their ears have sensory areas that are precursors of structures responsible for hearing in air. For these reasons, some scientists believe that coelacanths may be related to the ancestors of the first land vertebrates, although molecular evidence is increasingly suggesting that lungfish have closer evolutionary ties to this ancestor.
(For more information, visit the African Coelacanth Ecosystem Programme)
Spanning the waters of at least 37 countries, the dugong is a plump, grey, streamlined animal that propels itself through the ocean slowly using a dolphin-like tail and paddle-like forelimbs. Along with the other members of its group (the sirenians) it is the only marine mammal that feeds primarily on plants, depending heavily on seagrass for subsistence. The dugong is almost naked of hair, has a blunt nose, small eyes and no external ears. Its snout is sharply downturned with stiff, curved bristles, an adaptation for raking up and manoeuvring food. The dugong is listed by the World Conservation Union as a species vulnerable to extinction. It has been hunted for thousands of years for its meat and oil and even though it is now legally protected in many countries, the global population continues to drop rapidly because of hunting, habitat degradation and often fatal interactions between dugongs and fishing nets. Although data are scarce, aerial surveys indicate that dugongs are extinct from the Seychelles, Mauritius and Tanzania. There are small numbers (up to 100) off Madagascar and Mozambique, but only seven were counted off Kenya.
The species of sea turtles that exist today became distinct from all other turtles at least 110 million years ago, making them some of the most ancient reptiles. Five of the seven marine turtle species are found in the ASCLME region: the green turtle (Chelonia mydas mydas), loggerhead turtle (Caretta caretta), olive ridley turtle (Lepidochelys olivacea), hawksbill (Eretmochelys imbricata) and the leatherback turtle (Dermochelys coriacea). All of these have flipper-shaped limbs and shells which are streamlined for swimming through water, with their colours varying between yellow, green and black depending on the species. Sea turtles can live up to 100 years and the leatherback, the largest sea turtle, can reach over two metres in length and weigh over 900kg. All species of sea turtle are either threatened or endangered. Marine pollution, the use of nesting beaches by humans, the incidental catching of turtles during fishing operations and the on-going demand for turtle meat, eggs, oil and shells, all contribute to the global decline in turtle populations.