SAN FRANCISCO, CA: A mesmerizing new species of fish has been found off the coast of the Maldives. The multicolored new-to-science Rose-Veiled Fairy Wrasse (Cirrhilabrus finifenmaa), is also one of the first species to have its name derived from the local Dhivehi language, ‘finifenmaa’ meaning ‘rose’, a nod to both its pink hues and the island nation’s national flower.
The fish lives in the ‘twilight zone’ reefs—the virtually unexplored coral ecosystems found between 50- to 150-meters (160- to 500-feet) beneath the ocean’s surface—where the scientists found new records of C. finifenmaa along with at least eight potentially new-to-science species yet to be described, disclosed a statement put up online by California Academy of Sciences.
Scientists from the California Academy of Sciences, the University of Sydney, the Maldives Marine Research Institute (MMRI), and the Field Museum had collaborated on the discovery as part of the Academy’s Hope for Reefs initiative aimed at better understanding and protecting coral reefs around the world.
First collected by researchers in the 1990s, C. finifenmaa was originally thought to be the adult version of a different species, Cirrhilabrus rubrisquamis, which had been described based on a single juvenile specimen from the Chagos Archipelago, an island chain 1,000 kilometers (621 miles) south of the Maldives.
In this new study, however, the researchers took a more detailed look at both adults and juveniles of the multicolored marvel, measuring and counting various features, such as the color of adult males, the height of each spine supporting the fin on the fish’s back, and the number of scales found on various body regions. These data, along with genetic analyses, were then compared to the C. rubrisquamis specimen to confirm that C. finifenmaa is indeed a unique species.
“What we previously thought was one widespread species of fish, is actually two different species, each with a potentially much more restricted distribution,” says lead author and University of Sydney doctoral student Yi-Kai Tea. “This exemplifies why describing new species, and taxonomy in general, is important for conservation and biodiversity management.”
Importantly, this revelation greatly reduces the known range of each wrasse, a crucial consideration when setting conservation priorities, said the statement.
“It has always been foreign scientists who have described species found in the Maldives without much involvement from local scientists, even those that are endemic to the Maldives,” says study co-author and Maldives Marine Research Institute biologist Ahmed Najeeb. “This time it is different and getting to be 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.”
Despite only just being described, the researchers say that the Rose-Veiled Fairy Wrasse is already being exploited through the aquarium hobbyist trade.
“Though the species is quite abundant and therefore not currently at a high risk of overexploitation, it’s still unsettling when a fish is already being commercialized before it even has a scientific name,” says senior author and Academy Curator of Ichthyology Luiz Rocha, PhD, who co-directs the Hope for Reefs initiative. “It speaks to how much biodiversity there is still left to be described from coral reef ecosystems.”