By Laura Geggel, Senior Writer | December 21, 2016 02:36pm ET
Next time he's vacationing in Hawaii, President Barack Obama might just bump into his new namesake: a pink, yellow and blue coral-reef fish that researchers have named in the president's honor.
Researchers discovered the previously unknown fish species, now dubbed Tosanoides obama, during a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) expedition to Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument in the remote Northwestern Hawaiian Islands in June 2016.
"We decided to name this fish after President Obama to recognize his efforts to protect and preserve the natural environment, including the expansion of Papahānaumokuākea," the study's lead author, Richard Pyle, a scientist at the Bishop Museum in Honolulu, Hawaii, said in a statement. "This expansion adds a layer of protection to one of the last great wilderness areas on Earth."
Obama expanded the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument on Aug. 26 after Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), along with conservationists and marine scientists, urged the president to protect the region's waters and marine life. The monument is now 582,578 square miles (1.5 million square kilometers), an area more than twice the size of Texas, that holds the title for largest permanent protected marine area on the planet. (The 598,000-squaremile, or 1.55 million square km, marine reserve in Antarctica's Ross Sea is larger, but that area is protected for only a 35-year period, Live Science reported in October.)
During a September trip to Midway Atoll, an island within the monument, Obama met with legendary scientist, conservationist and deep-ocean explorer Sylvia Earle, who gave the president a photograph of T. obama. The footage of the visit will be shown on the National Geographic global broadcast special, "Sea Of Hope," which will air Jan. 15, 2017.
T. obama is small, just 2.4 inches (6.1 centimeters) long, and it lives deep underwater, about 300 feet (90 meters) under the surface. Deep coral reefs grow at this depth, but despite the diversity of animals that live there, this so-called "twilight zone" isn't well-explored by marine biologists, the researchers said.
When scientists first spotted the small pink fish, they thought it was a Pseudanthias thompsoni (another tropical fish species), but a prominent red spot on the end of the animal's dorsal fin indicated that the fish was a previously unidentified species, the researchers wrote in the study.