Researchers have discovered a new species of coral reef fish in the southern waters of the Great Barrier Reef at Lady Elliot Island.
Named the Lady Elliot Shrimp Goby (Tomiyamichthyes Elliotensis), the previously unknown fish was found as part of the Great Barrier Reef Foundation’s Reef Islands Initiative research project.
The project was led by the University of Sunshine Coast and is mapping the changing biodiversity on and around Lady Elliot Island.
Leaf to Reef research project marine biologist Dr Chris Dudgeon said it was a significant and exciting discovery.
“It's been a while since a ‘never recorded anywhere before’ fish has been described from the Great Barrier Reef,” he said.
“While the Great Barrier Reef is a much-studied ecosystem, the last completely new species to be described was a grouper found in the deep sea in 2019, which is where most new discoveries come from.
“To find a new fish species in the shallows on a reef, in plain sight, is unique.”
The Lady Elliot Shrimp Goby was described in a paper in the Journal of the Ocean Science Foundation as small and white, with brown spots, yellow-orange bands and a large sail-like first dorsal fin.
It was first sighted in a sand burrow that it shares with a pair of alpheid snapping shrimps.
Co-author of the research paper, fish taxonomist Mark Erdmann said gobies were frequently overlooked by divers and marine scientists due to their small size and cryptic behaviours.
“Nonetheless, a close look at these fishes reveals a subtle beauty in their colour patterns which often rivals that of their more conspicuous cousins on the reef like butterflyfishes or parrotfishes,” he said.
“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.”
The scientists believe the Lady Elliot Shrimp Goby is likely to be present throughout the Capricorn-Bunker reefs and potentially widespread throughout the whole Great Barrier Reef.
The researchers say the discovery generates more questions and speculation – including how many more new species are waiting to be uncovered.
UniSC Marine Biologist Associate Professor Kathy Townsend leads the Leaf to Reef project and said new species research was critical for identify ecosystems most in need of protection.
“We have fish and birds appearing in places they haven’t been found before which emphasises the important role that Lady Elliot Island plays as a wildlife refuge and a shelter for northern tropical species moving south to escape warming oceans.”
Lady Elliot Island was the first location included in the Reef Islands Initiative, a ten-year project to establish a network of climate change refuges to protect critical habitats on key Reef islands.