Last week, divers from the Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies (IMAS) and the citizen science project Reef Life Survey (RLS) encountered a new population, which also has between 20 and 40 of these bizarre, punkish-looking fish.
The newfound population lives a few miles away from the other one, but to protect the fish, researchers aren't disclosing its exact location,according to a statement from the University of Tasmania. Each population lives in an area about the size of two tennis courts — a range that's relatively small, because these relatively sedentary fish don't swim; rather, they walk on the seafloor with their hand-like pectoral fins, the divers said.
"That second population's just a huge relief," Rick Stuart-Smith, an IMAS scientist and RLS co-founder, said in a video. "It effectively doubles how many we think there are left on the planet. But it also gives us hope that there may be other populations out there."
Habitat degradation is one of the major threats facing the species. Other threats include invasive species, pollution, siltation (in which fine particles are suspended in the water) and rising water temperatures (warm water doesn't hold as much oxygen as cold water), the report said. Moreover, because the fish are so slow, illegal collectors can easily catch them.
What's more, red handfish appear to sometimes lay their eggs on green algae. But finding the algae has become a challenge for the fish because the green aquatic plants are being eaten by Heliocidaris erythrogramma — a sea urchin that's native to southeastern Tasmania whose numbers have spiked in recent years.