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Our Beautiful World: The Rose-Veiled Fairy Wrasse

A Rose-Veiled Fairy Wrasse photographed off the coast of the Maldives during a recent Hope for Reefs research expedition. Credit (Luiz Rocha © California Academy of Sciences)

The new-to-science Maldives Rose-Veiled Fairy Wrasse (Cirrhilabrus finifenmaa),  is the first-ever to be formally described—the scientific process an organism goes through to be recognized as a new species—by a Maldivian researcher.

It is also one of the first species to have its name derived from the local Dhivehi language, ‘finifenmaa’ meaning ‘rose’, a nod to both its pink hues and the island nation’s national flower.

Scientists from the California Academy of Sciences, the University of Sydney, the Maldives Marine Research Institute (MMRI), and the Field Museum collaborated on the discovery as part of the Academy’s Hope for Reefs initiative aimed at better understanding and protecting coral reefs around the world.

First collected by researchers in the 1990s, C. finifenmaa was originally thought to be the adult version of a different species, Cirrhilabrus rubrisquamis, which had been described based on a single juvenile specimen from the Chagos Archipelago, an island chain 1,000 kilometers (621 miles) south of the Maldives. 

“What we previously thought was one widespread species of fish, is actually two different species, each with a potentially much more restricted distribution,” explained Yi-Kai Tea, University of Sydney doctoral student

“This exemplifies why describing new species, and taxonomy in general, is important for conservation and biodiversity management.” 

The species name ‘finifenmaa’ means ‘rose’ in the local Dhivehi language, a nod to both its pink hues and the Maldives’ national flower. Credit: (© Yi-Kai Tea)

Despite only just being described, the Rose-Veiled Fairy Wrasse is already being exploited through the aquarium hobbyist trade. 

Last month, Hope for Reefs researchers continued their collaboration with the MMRI by conducting the first surveys of the Maldives’ ‘twilight zone’ reefs—the virtually unexplored coral ecosystems found between 50- to 150-meters (160- to 500-feet) beneath the ocean’s surface—where they found new records of C. finifenmaa along with at least eight potentially new-to-science species yet to be described. 

For the researchers, this kind of international partnership is pivotal to best understand and ensure a regenerative future for the Maldives’ coral reefs. 

 Academy Curator of Ichthyology Luiz Rocha, PhD, who co-directs the Hope for Reefs initiative said:

“Nobody knows these waters better than the Maldivian people. Our research is stronger when it’s done in collaboration with local researchers and divers. I’m excited to continue our relationship with MMRI and the Ministry of Fisheries to learn about and protect the island nation’s reefs together.”

The research was published in the journal ZooKeys

This new-to-science Rose-Veiled Fairy Wrasse is the first Maldivian fish to ever be described by a local researcher. (© Yi-Kai Tea) Credit: © Yi-Kai Tea

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