Local Scientists Discover Rainbow-Coloured Fish In The Maldivian ‘Twilight Zone’

Jun 24, 2022by Olivia - F&F

A gorgeous, rainbow-coloured fish found off the coast of the Maldives has been confirmed as a unique species, thanks to years of research conducted by a team of Maldivian, American and Australian scientists!

Rose-Veiled Fairy Wrasse Named After The Maldives’ National Flower

How stunning is the Rose-Veiled Fairy Wrasse? This mesmerising, multicoloured fish is new to science, but not new to the locals in the Maldives. It’s said to be one of the first species to have its name derived from the local Dhivehi language. The species’ scientific name — Cirrhilabrus finifenmaa — refers to the fish’s pink hues and the national flower of the Maldives, because ‘finifenmaa’ translates to ‘rose’.

We’re used to seeing gorgeous, colourful fish in shallow coral reefs, but the Rose-Veiled Fairy Wrasse is quite shy;  preferring the deep, dark ‘twilight zone’, which is roughly 30-150 metres below the ocean’s surface. “The species is quite abundant. It speaks to how much biodiversity there is still left to be described from coral reef ecosystems,” said author, researcher, and co-director of the Hope For Reefs initiative, Luiz Rocha.

Rose Veiled Fairy Wrasse FishRose Veiled Fairy Wrasse Fish

Image: Luiz Rocha / California Academy of Sciences & Yi-Kai Tea / California Academy of Sciences

Rose-Veiled Fairy Wrasse Confirmed As A New Species 

So, if this rainbow-coloured species isn’t new to Maldivian locals — then why is it making headlines? Since the 1990s, the Rose-Veiled Fairy Wrasse was originally thought to be the adult version of a different species: Cirrhilabrus rubrisquamis.

As part of the Hope For Reefs initiative, Scientists from the California Academy of Sciences, the University of Sydney, the Maldives Marine Research Institute (MMRI), and the Field Museum took a detailed look at juveniles and adults of both species, and concluded that the Rose-Veiled Fairy Wrasse was a unique species! This ‘new’ species was found to have different colouring, measurements and features.

So, what was previously thought to be one widespread species of fish, is actually two different species. 

Ahmed Najeeb Hope For ReefsAhmed Najeeb Hope For Reefs

Image: Claudia Rocha / California Academy of Sciences

Local Maldivian Scientist Played An Integral Role In The Discovery 

The study which formally described the Rose-Veiled Fairy Wrasse as a new species — published in ZooKeys — was co-authored by Ahmed Najeeb, a biologist from the MMRI.

“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,” he said. But, “this time it is different, and getting to be apart of this has been really exciting,” Najeeb said.

Thanks to the global partnership between American, Australian and Maldivian institutions, the Rose-Veiled Fairy Wrasse was actually the first species to be formally described by a Maldivian researcher! “Nobody knows these waters better than the Maldivian people,” Luiz Rocha said.

Hope For Reefs California Academy of SciencesHope For Reefs California Academy of Sciences

Image: Hope For Reefs / California Academy of Sciences

More Species Discovered In The Maldivian ‘Twilight Zone’

Through the Hope For Reefs initiative, the team of researchers discovered several new-to-science species, not just the Rose-Veiled Fairy Wrasse! The Maldives is home to the seventh-largest coral reef system on Earth — and, until recently — its mesophotic zone (twilight zone) was completely unexplored. Around 30-150 metres below the surface, the researchers discovered 8+ new species! But, it’s only the beginning. 

“Collaborating with organisations such as the Academy helps us build our local capacity to expand knowledge in this field. This is just the start," said Najeeb. “Our partnership will help us better understand the unexplored depths of our marine ecosystems and their inhabitants. The more we understand and the more compelling scientific evidence we can gather, the better we can protect them,” Najeeb said.

What do you think about these amazing discoveries — led by local Maldividan researchers? We’re hoping that the gorgeous, rainbow-coloured Rose-Veiled Fairy Wrasse is the first of many fish species to be found in the Maldivian twilight zone. 

If you love hearing about new marine wildlife discoveries and the amazing initiatives that make them possible, then check out our Eco News category and the blogs below.

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