Paedocypris micromegethes, a peat swamp species and one of the world smallest species under threat from habitat destruction. Pic by NSTP/ COURTESY DR ZAHAR AZUAR ZAKARIA

KUALA TERENGGANU: The world’s second smallest fish, Paedocypris micromegethes, found only in highly acidic black water peat swamps in Terengganu, Johor, Perak and Sarawak, is under threat of extinction following the draining of these areas for oil palm plantation.

Ichthyologists are concerned that the fish sensitive to changes in its water parameters, may not survive the destruction of its habitat, which is also home for some aquatic species unique to peat swamp already under the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) red list of endangered species.

Measuring just 11 millimetres, Paedocypris micromegethes, is also being collected for the aquarium trade and despite its status as a rare and endangered species, it is sold for as cheap as RM3.30 per fish.

Ichthyologist Dr Zahar Azuar Zakaria who found the latest specimen of Paedocypris micromegethes in a peat swamp area in Sibu recently voiced his concern that the development of oil palm plantations in the area may soon wipe out the species.

“I have seen another Paedocypris species, the P. carbunculus traded as ruby rasbora in Singapore. I believe two other species like the P. micromegentes (Malaysia) and P. progenitica (Indonesia) are also being sold in the aquarium trade.

“These are delicate species and are being threatened by habitat loss. We may just read about this species in journals in the near future,” said Dr Zahar Azuar, who is on a mission to record all freshwater fish in Malaysia.

He said the fish was first discovered by Dr Amiruddin Ahmad of University Malaysia Terengganu at the Bukit Bauk peat swamp forest during a scientific expedition in 2007.

“This fish is sensitive to environmental changes and fragile. There have been attempts to breed it in captivity but unfortunately the results had been negative. The only way to preserve its population in the wild is to protect the swamp forest,” he added.

Dr Zahar Azuar said during a repeat expedition at a location in Kemaman, he failed to find a single P. micromegentes as the highly acidic water parameters had changed due to water run-off from nearby oil palm plantation.

“We may never see the fish again in Kemaman. Hopefully, the population in Bukit Bauk forest reserve in Dungun is not disturbed,” he added.

Meanwhile, Dr Amiruddin said the government should consider protect peat swamp areas as such location harbours many rare aquatic species as well as undescribed species previously unknown to the scientific world.

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