In an effort to help protect a struggling species from warming seas, human-caused habitat changes and ravenous urchins, scientists have collected 25 extremely rare Red Handfish from the ocean off Australia. Only about 100 are left in the wild, living in a small section of reef off southeast Tasmania.
At around 8cm centimetres in length, this species “walks” along the sea floor on adapted pectoral and pelvic fins rather than swimming.
According to the University of Tasmania’s Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies, overgrazing urchins, run-off from urban areas, disturbances from boats and rising sea temperatures have resulted in “severe habitat loss and degradation” for the species. For this reason, scientists at the institute recently made the difficult and risky decision to take dozens of the fish out of the wild for safekeeping.
“This summer has already well exceeded previous temperature maximums,” said marine scientist Jemina Stuart-Smith. “We can only assume that this additional stressor will impact the already fragile population,” she added.
On Wednesday, scientists said the 25 specimens were doing well in their temporary aquarium homes and were being closely monitored for stress or ill health. The scientists are hoping to return the fish to their natural habitat when temperatures drop with the onset of the Australian winter in June.