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First pygmy seahorse in Indian Ocean discovered

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A pygmy seahorse about the size of a grain of rice has been first observed in the Indian oceans by a group of researchers including including Research Associate of Zoology and Entomology at Rhodes University, Professor Louw Claassens, Rhodes University said on its official web site yesterday.

Finding the new species in in the Indian ocean was very rare, the researchers stated.

“It’s like finding a kangaroo in Norway,” says Richard Smith, a marine biologist based in the United Kingdom and co-author of a new study on the species, known as the African or Sodwana Bay pygmy seahorse. The second name refers to the location where it was found, a popular scuba-diving spot close to the Mozambique border.

The finding shocked them because all seven species of pygmy seahorse, except for one in Japan, inhabit the Coral Triangle, a biodiverse region of more than two million square miles in the southwestern Pacific. This one lives 5,000 miles away, the first pygmy seahorse seen in all of the Indian Ocean and the continent of Africa.

The new species looks somewhat similar to other pygmy seahorses, except that it has one set of spines on its back that have sharp, incisor-like points on the tips, says co-author Graham Short, an ichthyologist at the California Academy of Sciences and the Australian Museum in Sydney. In contrast, the other similar pygmy seahorses have flat-tipped spines.

“We really don’t know what these spines are used for,” Short says. “Many species of seahorses in general are spiny, so their presence could be possibly due to sexual selection—the females may prefer spinier males.”

The surprising discovery, described in a study published May 19 in the journal ZooKeys, shows how little we know about the ocean, particularly when it comes to tiny creatures, the authors say—and that there are likely many more pygmy seahorse species to be identified.

Dive instructor Savannah Nalu Olivier first stumbled upon the creature in Sodwana Bay in 2017, while examining bits of algae on the seafloor. The bay is known for having many species of rare fish, sharks, and sea turtles.

She shared photographs of the fish with her colleagues, and in 2018 they made their way to Smith, who, with colleague and Research Associate of Zoology and Entomology at Rhodes University, Louw Claassens, collected several specimens of the animal at depths of 40 to 55 feet.

The researchers have named the new seahorse Hippocampus nalu, after Olivier, whose nickname is appropriately “Fish.” (She’s also a Pisces.) In the South African languages Xhosa and Zulu, “nalu” roughly translates to “here it is.”

“I told her that this was a gift from the sea,” says Louis Olivier, Savannah’s father, who owns a scuba diving outfit called Pisces Diving Sodwana Bay. He adds he’s “super stoked about her discovery.”

Smith sent several specimens of the new species to Short, who analyzed their genetics and body structures using a CT scanner.

His research revealed that, like other pygmy seahorses, the newly found animal has two wing-like structures on its back, rather than one, as in larger seahorses. These “wings” in general serve an unknown purpose for seahorses.

Also like other pygmy seahorses, the African species has only one gill slit on its upper back, instead of two below each side of the head, like larger seahorses—another mystery.

That would be “like having a nose on the back of your neck,” Short says.

But the new seahorse is unique from its tiny kin in that it was found living in turf-like algae, amid boulders and sand. Sodwana Bay has large swells, and the little seahorses appear to be comfortable being swept about, says Smith, who observed a pygmy seahorse get covered in sand and then wriggle its way out.

“They regularly get sand-blasted,” says Smith, who wrote a book about sea creatures called The World Beneath. Other pygmy seahorses, which stick to the calmer waters around coral reefs, “are more dainty. But this [species] is built of sturdier stuff.”

Like other pygmy seahorses, the African version is thought to eat tiny copepods and crustaceans. It also is well camouflaged to match its surroundings.

This finding “demonstrates that there are still many discoveries to be made in the oceans, even in shallow waters near the coast,” says Thomas Trnski, head of natural sciences at the Auckland Museum in New Zealand, who wasn’t involved in the study. Almost all pygmy seahorses have been discovered in just the last 20 years, he adds.

The only pygmy seahorse found outside the Coral Triangle is the Japanese pygmy seahorse, also known as the “Japan pig,” first described in August 2018.

Although populations of regular seahorses have fallen in many areas because of harvesting for use in traditional Chinese medicine and the aquarium trade, that’s not an issue for pygmy seahorses because they are difficult to find, Short says. That being said, some of these species have very low population densities, and there’s not enough data to get a good sense of how many there are, Smith adds.

These fish can spread only very short distances via the current. The study suggests that Hippocampus nalu diverged from the ancestors of all known pygmy seahorses species more than 12 million years ago.

“This means that it is extremely likely that there are many more species of pygmy seahorses yet to be discovered in the western Indian Ocean” and beyond, Short says.



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SJB MPs tell Speaker they received death threats

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Vote in House to elect President:

By Saman Indrajith

Three SJB MPs told Parliament yesterday that they were threatened with death on the eve before the recent vote in Parliament to elect the President.

MPs Wasantha Yapabandara, Tilak Rajapaksa and Chaminda Wijesiri said that they had received death threats and demanded to know the legitimacy of the recent election of a new President by Parliament.

Badualla District SJB MP Wijesiri said that votes had been solicited from MPs by offering bribes and those who did not take bribes were threatened and intimidated to vote for Wickremesinghe.

“The votes were obtained by issuing death threats on MPs. Therefore, one has to question the legitimacy of the recent poll held in Parliament to elect a new President,” MP Wijesiri said.

The MP demanded that Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena should order an investigation into death threats. “Similarly, the Speaker should inform this House whether the election held in Parliament to elect a new President is legitimate or not,” he said.

Kandy District SLPP MP Wasantha Yapabandara said an unidentified caller had asked him to resign from Parliament or face death. “I have handed over recordings of the conversation to you and I request you to carry out an investigation into this matter,” the MP told the Chair.

Digamadulla District SLPP MP Tilak Rajapsksa also called for an investigation into threats faced by MPs.

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Govt. announces 75% power tariff increase

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Janaka Ratnayake

By Ifham Nizam

The Public Utilities Commission (PUCSL) yesterday said that the new electricity tariff hike of 75 percent would be effective from today.

The electricity bill of the consumers who use up to 30 units per month will increase by Rs. 198.

The average monthly electricity bill for those who consume up to 60 units will be increased by some Rs. 200.

Although the Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB) had sought an increase of 276% for the consumers who used more than 90 units, the PUCSL stood firm on sticking to 125%, according to PUCSL Chairman, Janaka Ratnayake, who said that 75 % of the electricity consumers continued to benefit from a subsidy.

Steps had also been taken to encourage electricity consumers to promote renewable electricity generation with the tariff revision decision, he said.

Ratnayake said that the new tariff revision had been formulated to provide relief to the hotel sector and the industrial sector.

“During the last nine years, the value of the dollar has increased by 190 percent. Therefore, the industries in the export sector will not be greatly affected by this electricity tariff revision,” he said.

Instead of the 116 percent tariff increase proposed by the Ceylon Electricity Board for industries, hotels and general-purpose sectors, with low electricity consumption, will get an approved tariff increase of 39 percent for the public sector and 75 percent for the industrial sector.

Only 50 percent of the increase in the approved rates, especially for the tourism sector will come into effect tomorrow. The remaining 50 percent tariff increase will come into effect after another three months as an incentive and relief, facilitating the tourism industry’s recovery, according to the government.

In addition, it has been decided to provide a 1.5 percent discount when electricity bills are paid in dollars as a relief to the tourism and export industries.

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SLPP questions GR’s response to ‘Aragalaya’

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… won’t expect miracles from new Prez

By Shamindra Ferdinando

The ruling Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) didn’t expect miracles from UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe but strongly believed he could meet the growing threat posed by fascists, lawmaker Sagara Kariyawasam, General Secretary of the party, said on Monday night.

Appearing on ‘Salakuna’ a live political programme on Hiru, SLPP National List MP said that the party unanimously decided to back Wickremesinghe’s candidature, at the presidential contest, in the wake of the so-called protest movement destroying properties belonging to 76 lawmakers and those belonging to other party activists and their relatives during meticulously planned and executed ‘operation.’

The protest movement also killed Polonnaruwa District MP Amarakeerthi Atukorale and his police bodyguard, MP Kariyawasam said, emphasizing that their decision was essentially influenced by serious security considerations.

The panel of journalists, comprising Chamuditha Samarawickrema, Madushan de Silva and Kalindu Vidanage, pressed Kariyawasam and UNP General Secretary and ex-MP, Palitha Range Bandara, over their agreement on the SLPP’s support for Wickremesinghe at the presidential contest.

In spite of Kariyawasam and Bandara repeatedly denying a written agreement, or verbal understanding, the Hiru panel sought an explanation how the UNP leader managed to obtain 133 votes other than the one vote exercised by Wickremesinghe himself.

The SLPP won 145 seats, including 17 National List slots at the last parliamentary election in August 2020 whereas the UNP was reduced to just one NL seat.

At one point, a smiling ex-State Minister Bandara asked the interviewers not to portray the SLPP’s backing for Wickremesinghe as another ‘ali koti’ agreement. Bandara was referring to the much-publicized accusations, directed at the UNP at previous national elections, before President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s government brought the war to a successful conclusion in May 2009.

Responding to queries, lawmaker Kariyawasam revealed that in the wake of stepped up protests, against the government, the SLPP advised the then President Gotabaya Rajapaksa against appointing another member of the government parliamentary group as the PM. The SLPP felt that replacing PM Mahinda Rajapaksa with one of their own wouldn’t have helped to bring the tensions down, MP Kariyawasam said.

UNPer Bandara emphasized that Wickremesinghe accepted the premiership on May 12 after Samagi Jana Balavegaya leader Sajith Premadasa, MP, and Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka, also of the same party, turned down President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s offer.

Asked whether SLPP strongman Basil Rajapaksa proposed Wickremesinghe’s name, lawmaker Kariyawasam said that a committee, chaired by him in his capacity as the General Secretary, decided to field Wickremesinghe at the presidential contest. Lawyer Kariyawasam said that former Premier Mahinda Rajapaksa, too, attended the meeting, via zoom technology.

According to MP Kariyawasam, of over 30 members of the decision-making body, led by Mahinda Rajapaksa, 23 participated at the meeting. Basil Rajapaksa and SLPP Chairman Prof. G.L. Peiris had been among those who didn’t attend the meeting.

MP Kariyawasam said that in spite of a Prof. Peiris acting contrary to the decision taken by the party, disciplinary measures hadn’t been initiated. The former Foreign Minister remained the SLPP Chairman, MP Kariyawasam said.

When interviewers sought an explanation as regards Mahinda Rajapaksa’s declaration, soon after MPs overwhelmingly elected Wickremesinghe, as the President, on July 20, that the SLPP fielded Dullas Alahapperuma, MP Kariyawasam asserted perhaps the former Premier said so taking into consideration his personal friendship with the Matara district MP. Lawyer Kariyawasam said that Mahinda Rajapaksa’s reaction could be interpreted in different ways.

Lawmaker Kariyawasam asked the interviewers to raise the issue at hand with Mahinda Rajapaksa while reiterating the SLPP took a hard decision and nothing mattered other than electing a person who could overcome the fascist challenge.

MP Kariyawasam declined to name culprits though he categorized a section of the parliamentary group as having conspired against the government.

The SLPP General Secretary questioned President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s failure to meet the threat posed by the protest movement. Declaring the SLPP had been surprised by the President’s decision to leave the country, lawmaker Kariyawasam queried whether the President cum Defence Minister refrained from exercising his powers, or the instructions issued by him weren’t carried out. Declaring that President Gotabaya Rajapaksa should have stayed back and faced the challenge, MP Kariyawasam said that the SLPP’s stand on this matter would be revealed later, along with what he called self-criticism of the party.

Asked whether the armed forces refrained from carrying out instructions issued by the President, MP Kariyawasam advised the interviewers to seek a clarification from the former leader.

MP Kariyawasam said the campaign that had been carried out against President Gotabaya Rajapaksa should be examined against the backdrop of Western powers interventions in Iraq and Libya leading to the execution of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein on Dec 30, 2006 and killing of Muammar Gaddafi on Oct 20, 2011 at Sirte, Libya. Lawmaker Kariyawasm recalled how the Western powers falsely accused Iraq of having Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMDs) before invading that country. Those who couldn’t stomach the eradication of the separatist LTTE were hell bent on taking revenge on the Rajapaksas, MP Kariyawasam said.

When Chamuditha Samarawickrema asked MP Kariyawasam to reveal the number of Colombo-based diplomatic missions that had been involved in the anti-government project, an irate SLPP official, while declining to answer, emphasized that it shouldn’t have been raised with him.

The public would know the truth one day, the MP said.

The contentious issue of handling corruption cases, during the Yahapalana administration, compelled the SLPP General Secretary to strongly dispute the UNP General Secretary.

Responding to the UNPer’s declaration that a team, supervised by Ranil Wickremesinghe, altogether handled 448 cases whereas the other team, spearheaded by Maithripala Sirisena and J.C. Weliamuna, did absolutely nothing, MP Kariyawasam said such claims were baseless.

Ex-MP Range Bandara harshly criticized both Sajith Premadasa and Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka. Alleging that MP Premadasa never had the guts to take up a challenge, lawmaker Range Bandara issued a dire warning to MP Fonseka over his call to revolt against the government. Declaring that the former warwinning Army Commander couldn’t operate outside the Constitution, the UNPer said that the Gampaha District MP could suffer the fate of Ranjan Ramanayake, who was found guilty of contempt of court and sentenced to a prison term.

MP Kariyawasam launched a scathing attack on former Power and Energy Minister Udaya Gammanpila over what he called the much publicized claim over an agreement with Oman to procure oil for a period of one year. In spite of such claims, nothing materilized thereby causing major problems for President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s government, the MP said.

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