A team of divers from the Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies (IMAS), in conjunction with the citizen science project Reef Life Survey (RLS), recently made a very exciting discovery - a second population of the exceptionally scarce Red Handfish (Thymichthys politus).

Regarded as one of the world's rarest fish, this unusual-looking bottom dweller was thought to be confined to a small area off the coast of south east Tasmania called Frederick Henry Bay, home to a mere estimated 20-40 specimens. This new find effectively doubles the known population.

Little is known about the new site, details of which will not be disclosed until conservation options have been discussed, but it is said to be several kilometres away from the original location and, rather surprisingly, not identical in habitat to the first. Both sites are relatively small, each approximately the size of two tennis courts, with distribution thought to be limited due to the fish's unusual method of locomotion: that of walking the seabed on its "hands" (modified pectoral and pelvic fins).

Red Handfish attain an adult size of just 9cm SL. The body is covered in small, close-set, flattened warts, the posterior margins of which possess a tiny, sharp prostrate spine. There are two dorsal fins, the first being much shorter and situated directly on top of the head. Colouration is variable, but is generally shades of pink/red, often paler ventrally, sometimes with darker coloured warts and blue/black highlights in the fin membranes. This species has a large esca (lure) attached to the front of the face via a short, thick illicium (a thread-like, modified first dorsal spine). The fish is well camouflaged within its surroundings, and tends to sit virtually immobile in a prominent position amongst the plant life, sporadically waving the esca and instantly ambushing small fishes and invertebrates that are attracted by the bait.

This remarkable find not only dramatically increases the numbers of this rare fish, but also enlarges the gene pool considerably. The fact that this second site is not identical to the first also means that the fish are not quite as critically dependent on a restricted set of environmental conditions. The find also gives hope that there could be further populations waiting to be discovered!