A tiny white fish with large brown spots is the Great Barrier Reef’s newest kid on the block.
Australian and New Zealand researchers are celebrating the discovery of the small fry measuring 3 – 5 cm, dubbed the Lady Elliot Shrimp Goby (Tomiyamichthys elliotensis), as the first new fish discovery on the Reef since 2019.
The species was identified as part of a University of Sunshine Coast led Leaf to Reef project mapping biodiversity around Lady Elliot Island and is described in the Journal of the Ocean Science Foundation.
The fish, which sports a large sail-like dorsal fin with yellow-orange bands, was first spotted in a sand burrow it shares with a pair of alpheid snapping shrimps. The fish was found living on flat sandy bottoms at around 15 – 24m deep, exposed to strong tidal currents.
There are currently over 100 recognised species of shrimp gobies in the Indo-West Pacific. These creatures often cohabit with shrimps; the goby acts as lookout for predators while the shrimp builds and maintains the burrow.
More new species are expected to come.
The Leaf to Reef research team is currently working to confirm that up to seven other unidentified marine creatures they found during their underwater surveys – including dwarf and pygmy gobies and damselfish – are also new to science.
Fish taxonomist and Vice President of Conservation International’s Asia-Pacific Marine Programs Dr Mark Erdmann, who co-authored the paper, says most of the potentially new species uncovered at Lady Elliot Island were gobies – frequently overlooked by divers and marine scientists due to their small size and cryptic behaviours.
“I’m delighted that the biodiversity research being conducted as part of the Leaf to Reef project is highlighting these ‘cryptobenthic’ species like the gobies, which besides comprising a significant proportion of the reef fish biodiversity on the Great Barrier Reef, are also vitally important as a significant source of food to larger reef fishes including wrasses, groupers and emperors,” Erdmann says.