A study by Scientists from the Bishop Museum and NOAA published in the scientific journal ZooKeys on 6th September 2016 describes a brand new butterflyfish species. The discovery was made in Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument in the remote North-western Hawaiian Islands.
The fish was discovered in the deep coral reefs at a depth of 150 to 500 feet, known as the “coral-reef twilight zone”. This ecosystem is out of reach for most scuba divers and shallower than most submersible-based exploration making it the new frontier for coral reef research.
“Discoveries such as this underscore how poorly explored and how little we know about our deep coral reefs,” said Randall Kosaki, NOAA scientist and co-author of the study. “Virtually every deep dive we do takes place on a reef that no human being has ever seen.”
“Finding a new species of butterflyfish is a rare event.”
The species was first recognised as a potential new species when it was videoed from a manned submersible over 20 years ago. However, it was only many years later, following the more advanced equipment and diving techniques, that specimens could be collected for proper scientific documentation. At this point it was confirmed that this was indeed a new species.
“Butterflyfish are the glamour fish of the coral reefs,” said Richard Pyle, Bishop Museum scientist and lead author on the publication. “They are colourful, beautiful, and have been very well-studied worldwide. Finding a new species of butterflyfish is a rare event.”
In June this year, live specimens of the fish were collected during a NOAA expedition to Papahānaumokuākea allowing them to be described. These fish are now on display at Bishop Museum in Honolulu and at the Mokupāpapa Discovery Center in Hilo. An additional specimen is on display in the Deep Reef exhibit at the Waikiki Aquarium. The fish, thought to be endemic to the Hawaiian Archipelago, was encountered regularly at depths of 330 feet during these expeditions.
“This new discovery illustrates the conservation value of very large marine protected areas,” said Kosaki. “Not only do they protect the biodiversity that we already know about, they also protect the diversity we’ve yet to discover. And there’s a lot left to discover.”
The new fish has been named Pete Basabe’s butterflyfish (Prognathodes basabei), after Pete Basabe. Pete, a veteran local diver from Kona has over the years, assisted with the collection of reef fishes for numerous scientific studies and educational displays. He was instrumental in providing support for the dives that produced the first specimen of the fish so it is fitting that it now bears his name.
The future of the fish looks relatively secure following President Obama’s announcement, on 26th August this year, that Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument will be expanded from 139,797 square miles to 582,578 square miles, making it the largest marine protected area on Earth.
Read the full study paper