Butterflyfish found in deep coral reefs
Scientists have announced the discovery of a new species of butterflyfish in the deep coral reefs of the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument, in the northwestern Hawaiian Islands.
A paper describing the species has been published in the latest issue of ZooKeys journal.
Named Pete Basabe’s Butterflyfish (Prognathodes basabei), the fish was actually first recorded on video more than 20 years ago from manned submersibles at depths of 600 feet. Bishop Museum scientist Richard Pyle and University of Hawaii marine biologist E. H. “Deetsie” Chave acknowledged it as a potential new species then, but further investigation at the time was impossible due to the extreme depth.
It was only after advanced CCR technology came into the picture that specimens of the fish were collected and preserved, thereby facilitating proper documentation. Describing butterflyfish as colourful, beautiful, and well-studied worldwide, lead author Pyle said that “finding a new species of butterflyfish is a rare event.”
Veteran local diver Pete Basabe was given the honour of having the new species named after him for his efforts in collecting reef fishes for scientific research and educational displays. An experienced deep diver from Kona, he was also instrumental in his support of the dives that led to the collection of the first specimen of the new species.
At depths of 180 to 500 feet, deep coral reefs (where Pete Basabe’s Butterflyfish are found) are the most poorly explored of all the marine ecosystems. This is because they are deeper than where most scuba divers would explore, yet shallower than where most submersibles are designed to explore.
“Discoveries such as this underscore how poorly explored and how little we know about our deep coral reefs. Virtually every deep dive we do takes place on a reef that no human being has ever seen,” said Randall Kosaki, NOAA scientist and the study’s co-author.
In June this year, a NOAA expedition led to the collection of live specimens. These fish are now on display at Bishop Museum in Honolulu, Mokupāpapa Discovery Center in Hilo and the Waikiki Aquarium.
The announcement of the new species comes less than two weeks after US President Barack Obama announced the expansion of the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument from 139,797 to 582,578 square miles, making it the largest marine park in the world.
Kosaki described the discovery as an illustration of the conservation value of large marine protected areas, adding, “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.”