New population of rare red handfish discovered

By AG Staff | January 25, 2018

Scientists are now hopeful that new populations will begin to emerge.

A TEAM OF divers have discovered a small population of critically endangered red handfish (Thymichthys politus) in a small reef close to Hobart, Tasmania.

The new site was surveyed after a member of the public sighted red handfish in the area, prompting a team of divers to go out searching.

Prior to the discovery a small population of handfish were known to inhabit a restricted area of a reef in Frederick Henry Bay, close to Hobart.

Scientists have now estimated that the new site— said to be close to the reef in Frederick Henry Bay may contain a population of up to 20 to 40 red handfish. 

Diver Antonia Coooper, who spent two days with her fellow divers searching the new site, wasn’t hopeful of finding the elusive fish.

“We were diving for approximately three and a half hours and at about the two-hour mark we were all looking at each other thinking this is not looking promising,” she told the Guardian.

“My dive partner went to tell the other divers that we were going to start heading in and I was half-heartedly flicking algae around when, lo and behold, I found a red handfish.”

While the new discovery brings hope that there may be small populations yet to be found, Rick Stuart-Smith, who lead the surveys, told the Guardian that populations would be genetically isolated, causing long term issues for their conservation.

“If they are disturbed they can do a little burst, they will swim 50cm in a burst and then settle again,” he said. “They waddle on their fins, they are just trudging along the bottom. In fact you hardly ever see them actually moving.

“Imagine something that’s seven or nine centimetres long trying to walk 1km on a rocky ocean bottom … they are sitting ducks, plus it’s just a big effort for them.”

The biggest threats to red handfish continue to be poaching for use as pets, its low reproductive rate and population fragmentation. 

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