Researchers sampled great snappers from four locations, from the Chagos Islands in the Central Indian Ocean to the West Australian coast. They analyzed the annual growth bands of the sagittal otoliths (ear bones) to determine the age of the fish with tree rings, and they sampled two of the three species to record the longest tropical reef-related fish recorded. A total of eleven people in the sample were over 60 years old, a single Red bass, Lutjanus bohar, clocking in at 79, and our record-breaking Midnight Snapper at 81. The discovery was made from the octogenarian Rowley Shoals, which sits 300 kilometers (186 miles) west of Broome, Western Australia.
Coral reefs provide important habitat for schools of reef fish species around the world, but many are at risk of coral bleaching due to climate change and increasing sea acidity. To evaluate the health and best conservation practices for reef fish fighting, we need to learn more about their life cycle, including growth rates and maximum age trends. A recent study published in the journal Coral Reefs looked at three species of tropical snapper in Western Australia to try to maximize their age and found that one of them was 81 years old. This astonishing age puts the midnight snapper, the macular, at a maximum lifespan and two decades above previous estimates for the world’s oldest tropical reef fish.
Dr. Brett Taylor, a fish biologist at the Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS), said: “The oldest fish we’ve ever found in shallow, tropical waters is about 60 years old.” “We have identified two separate species here that are becoming octogenarian and probably older.”
The next step is to determine how these species respond to different water temperatures to ensure that they are able to cope with warmer temperatures in their entire range. The years were at higher latitudes where temperatures were cooling, drawing a picture of an uncertain future for their longevity in a warm ocean. For now, researchers are still leaning towards the fact that some of these fish have been kicking around since 1939.
“It survived the Great Depression and World War II,” Taylor said. “It saw the Beatles take over the world, and Nirvana came and went and after it was collected it was collected in a fishery survey. Fishing in coral reefs for 80 years is simply incredible.