'Rariphotic Zone' Ocean Discovery: Biologists Identify Otherworldly New Fish Species in Caribbean Near Curaçao Island

Wednesday, 21 March 2018 - 2:00PM
Wednesday, 21 March 2018 - 2:00PM
'Rariphotic Zone' Ocean Discovery: Biologists Identify Otherworldly New Fish Species in Caribbean Near Curaçao Island
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Human beings have a tendency to look up. We gaze at the stars, wondering what might be out there, and whether there is life off on any other distant planet, somewhere in the universe.

In the meantime, there's plenty of amazing new life forms to be discovered right here on Earth, and they look just as beautiful and colorful as any space alien that Luc Besson can come up with.

The problem with finding, identifying, and studying a lot of these life forms is that they exist in an environment that humans can't easily travel to. It's difficult to breathe underwater at the best of times, but when you're also delving down to an oceanic depth where there is very little to no natural light, it becomes a challenge to pay attention to the fish you're bumping into.

A new survey, published in Scientific Reports, endeavored to explore the behavior of underwater animals following the destruction of their coral habitats due to the ever-present specter of human pollution. Scientists theorized that a lot of these creatures must be finding new homes, a little further out of our reach, in order to survive. So, like the utter jerks that we are, we waded down into their new environment to shine flashlights in their faces, because apparently, the poor fish haven't suffered enough.

The findings of the survey are fascinating—apparently, there's a whole ocean zone down in the depths of the sea that has never before been studied, which is brimming with life forms that have never been documented.

The newly named rariphotic zone exist are around 490 to 1,015 feet (150 to 309 meters); below the mesophotic zone where enough dim sunlight exists for photosynthesis to be possible, but above the aphotic zone where darkness rules and terrifying angler fish lurk in wait.

Over the course of 80 manned dives into the sea around Curaçao Island in the Caribbean sea, biologists were able to identify 4,436 individual fish, which came from 30 new species, and six new genera which are unlike anything we've seen before.

According to Carole Baldwin, lead author on the new research:

Opening quote
"Reef ecosystems just below the mesophotic are globally underexplored, and the conventional view based on the few studies that mention them was that mesophotic ecosystems transition directly into those of the deep sea. Our study reveals a previously unrecognized zone comprising reef vs. deep-sea fishes that links mesophotic and deep-sea ecosystems."
Closing quote

These fish were here long before the destruction of coral up above, which means that there's still plenty of life in the ocean that humanity hasn't managed to exterminate just yet. This is good news for those who care about preservation, but now that we've discovered all these new fish, it's our responsibility to make sure we don't end up destroying their homes as well.

In the meantime, it's nice to find new life forms somewhere in the universe, even if it's not quite as far-flung as some people might like.

While aliens are still nowhere to be seen, there are plenty of life forms right here on Earth that we still know absolutely nothing about.
Science News