Obama’s legacy is currently in a precarious position. It’s not clear exactly how secure his policy accomplishments are, going into the Trump presidency. But he will have made at least one lasting footprint on the world – a newly-discovered species of tropical fish has been named in his honor.
The fish, a kind of coral reef fish discovered in Hawaii, has been given the name Tosanoides obama. It was found by divers at the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument in June. The Monument largely owes its protected status to the exiting president, who expanded its borders this year.
Richard Pyle, the lead author of the scientific paper that named the fish, said, “We decided to name this fish after President Obama to recognise his efforts to protect and preserve the natural environment, including the expansion of Papahānaumokuākea. This expansion adds a layer of protection to one of the last great wilderness areas on Earth.”
Obama expanded the Monument by an enormous 1,146.797 square kilometers. That’s 442,781 square miles. The total size of the area is 582,578 square miles. It is now the largest protected ecological monument on the planet.
The fish is a small one, and pretty. It has a fetching pink and yellow color scheme. It shares its genus, Tosanoides, with two other known species which both live in tropical areas of the Pacific Ocean.
It’s understandable that the fish has evaded detection until now, as it lives in deepwater reefs that are very difficult for casual divers to access. Tosanoides obama was discovered about 300 feet below the surface, inhabiting a kind of coral structure called “mesophotic coral.”
Brian Greene, one of the researchers who made the find, says, “These deep coral reefs are home to an incredible diversity of fishes, corals, and other marine invertebrates. There are many new species still waiting to be discovered down there.”
Male members of the species sport a red spot that’s ringed with blue, somewhat reminiscent of Obama’s 2008 campaign imagery.
Says Pyle of the fish, “The new fish is special because it is the only known species of coral-reef fish endemic to the Monument (meaning that the species is found nowhere else on Earth). Our research has documented the highest rate of fish endemism in the world – 100 percent – living on the deep reefs where we found this new species. Endemic species are unique contributions to global biodiversity. With the onslaught of climate change, we are at risk of losing some of these undiscovered species before we even know they exist.”
Surprisingly, T. obama is not the first animal to be named after Obama. It’s not even the second. The animals that bear his name include a speckled freshwater darter, a kind of parasitic hairworm, an extinct species of lizard and a trapdoor spider.
The tropical fish is, perhaps, more flattering.