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New reef fish found off Curaçao
STRI Panama

Coryphopterus curasub. Researchers based their identification of this new species on this female specimen, shown after preservation (above) and before preservation (below).

Discoveries keep bubbling up from the Caribbean Sea as Carole Baldwin and Ross Robertson of the Smithsonian Institution’s Deep Reef Observation Project name a fourth new tropical fish, the yellow-spotted sand goby, Coryphopterus curasub.

The fish takes its name, published in the journal ZooKeys on July 17, from Substation Curaçao’s Curasub, a submersible that caters to tourists, adventurers and researchers. Since their first expedition in 2011, Smithsonian marine scientists have collected more than 100 fishes, about a third of which are new to science. Their findings underscore how little is known about the incredible biological diversity of the Caribbean’s deep reefs.

“Every new place we go along the coast of Curaçao we find something we have not seen and collected before,” said Robertson, a staff scientist at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute.

The new fish, found 70 to 80 meters —around 230 to 260 feet—below the surface, is the deepest-dwelling addition to its genus, which now includes 12 species in the western Atlantic and one in the eastern Pacific, The discovery of a goby at this depth raises questions about how it differs from its shallower brethren. In addition to differences in its mitochondrial DNA, its pattern of spots and some physical features of its fins also distinguish C. curasub from other gobies.

Robertson and Baldwin, a scientist at the National Museum of Natural History, have made dozens of trips to Curaçao’s reefs, reaching depths of 320 meters—around 1,000 feet. Their pioneering work establishes a baseline for the biodiversity of deep Caribbean reefs, which will help scientists determine how these ecosystems are being affected by human activity and global change.

“New advances in diving technology, including subs that go to much greater depths, provides access we rarely had before,” said Robertson, whose body of work includes exhaustive guides to the shallow reef fish of the Caribbean and tropical eastern Pacific. “What we have been finding shows the value of working for years in one place. We expect to see similar things if we go elsewhere in the Caribbean.”

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