(CNN) — Far below the waves that surround the Maldives, there is a living rainbow in the “twilight zone” of the ocean. Say hello to the Rose Veil Fairy Fish, a colorful species of fish that is new to science.
The fish, which bears the scientific name Cirrhilabrus finifenmaahas been found alive at depths ranging from 40 to 70 meters (131 to 229 ft) below the ocean surface.
The name pays homage to the stunning pink hues of the fish, as well as the pink rose, the national flower of the Maldives. “Finifenmaa” means “rose” in the local Dhivehi language.
While hundreds of species thrive in the waters near and around the archipelago, this is the first fish described by a Maldivian scientist: Ahmed Najeeb. A study describing the fish published Tuesday in the journal Zoo Keys.
“It is always foreign scientists who have described the species found in the Maldives without much input from local scientists, even those that are endemic to the Maldives,” said study co-author Najeeb, a biologist at the Marine Research Institute of the Maldives. , in a report.
“This time is different and being part of something for the first time has been really exciting, especially having the opportunity to work alongside top ichthyologists on such an elegant and beautiful species.”
A fish by any other name
The fish has a history of mistaken identity. Researchers first discovered it in the 1990s, but believed it to be an adult belonging to Cirrhilabrus rubrisquamis, or the red velvet fairy fish. This different species had only been described from a single juvenile fish found 621 miles (1,000 kilometers) south of the Maldives in the Chagos Archipelago.
Wrasses, a largely brightly colored family of fish, are known to change color as they transition from juveniles to adults, lead study author Luiz Rocha, curator of the study, said in an email. ichthyology at the California Academy of Fish Sciences.
Although the young of many species look alike, it’s the adults that have distinctive characteristics, he said.
“A few months ago, Yi-Kai Tea (our first author) received images (from a remote control vehicle) of Chagos showing adults, which were very different from adults in the Maldives,” Rocha said. “That’s when we decided that the Maldivian species was new and different from C. rubrisquamis“.
In their study, the researchers focused on the details of adult and juvenile fish, analyzing the height of the spines that support their dorsal fins, counting scales and cataloging the colors of adult males.
Adult male rose-veiled fairies have a unique color pattern that includes bright magenta, peach, orange-pink, and deep purplish-red.
Finding that finifenmaa and rubrisquamis were two separate species can help scientists understand the range of these fish, which becomes especially important when trying to protect them.
“What we previously thought was one widespread species of fish are actually two different species, each with a potentially much more restricted distribution,” lead author Yi-Kai Tea, a doctoral student at the University, said in a statement since. Sidney. “It illustrates why the description of new species and taxonomy in general is important for the conservation and management of biodiversity.”
The name may be new, but the rose-veiled fairy was already the target of the aquarist trade.
“Although the species is quite abundant and therefore does not currently present a high risk of overexploitation, it is still worrying that a fish is already commercialized before having a scientific name,” said Rocha, also co-director of the Hope for Fish initiative. from the California Academy of Sciences. “This shows how much biodiversity remains to be described in coral reef ecosystems.”
Explore the reefs of the “Twilight Zone” where the Rainbow Peacekeeper lives
The Hope for Reefs initiative aims to research and restore coral reef systems. Last month, researchers from Hope for Reefs and the Maldives Marine Research Institute studied some of the twilight zone reefs of the Maldives.
These reefs can be anywhere from 160 to 500 feet (50 to 150 meters) below the ocean surface and provide a unique environment for fish such as wrasse.
“It’s a really different environment: it’s darker (because water works like a filter that absorbs light, so the deeper you go, the darker it gets) and colder,” Rocha said. “Hay muchos menos corales y casi ninguna alga (debido a la falta de luz), por lo que la comunidad de peces es muy diferente y la mayoría de los peces a esta profundidad se alimentan de plankton (diminutos invertebrados marinos que viven en la columna of water)”.
Recent dives, funded by a Rolex award, show how difficult it is to survey largely unexplored twilight zone reefs below the limits of recreational diving. Divers must wear an underwater breathing apparatus called recyclers and helium mixed with the gas they breathe to avoid the negative effects of breathing oxygen under such pressure, as well as using a lot of equipment that requires a lot of training, Rocha said.
But it’s worth it, according to the researchers.
“Diving there is like visiting another planet,” Rocha said. “We are always the first to see these reefs and we always find new species. It is very difficult, but also very exciting!”
During recent surveys, the research team found more rose-veil wrasses, as well as at least eight possible new species of fish.
The California Academy of Sciences and the Maldives Institute of Marine Research continue their partnership to further explore the reefs of the Maldives in the future.
“Our partnership will help us better understand the uncharted depths of our marine ecosystems and their inhabitants,” Najeeb said. “The more we understand and the more compelling scientific evidence we can gather, the better we can protect it.”
“We hope to collect a few more specimens of the other eight new species we recently found,” Rocha said. “Additionally, we are working closely with our Maldivian partners to continue using Maldivian names in our species.”