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by Sarah Stevens

We may be busy exploring other planets and looking beyond, but what about within? A recent discovery off the coast of Japan, reminds us that in 2012 we still have a lot to learn about what lies beneath the planet’s surface.

The earth is approximately 70% water, yet we have only explored less than 5% of the ocean. Although we are enthralled by the majestic and infamous predators of Shark Week, and the somewhat creepy and strange looking marine life lurking in the ocean depths, it is an inconspicuous puffer fish who has recently captured our attention.

During a recent dive off the coast of Japan, photographer Yoji Ookata, discovered unique geometric sand patterns approximately 80 feet below sea level. Using underwater cameras, Yoji and his team observed a small puffer fish, measuring only a few inches, creating these unique underwater crop circles. Swimming tirelessly, these small fish use one fin to create the symmetric patterns, which are more than 6 feet in diameter and decorated with small shells lining the inner grooves.

These incredible geometric patterns provide critical ecological functions to the reproduction and lifecycle of the puffer fish. The male fish uses the geometric patterns to allure a mate. Yoji’s team observed that the female fish are attracted to the grooves and valleys of the patterns, and the more the better. Not only are the patterns used to attract mates, but also they serve as nesting areas, protecting the eggs from ocean currents and predators.

The puffer fish ecosystem reminds us that there are millions of delicate and essential life-sustaining ecosystems that we have yet to discover. While we should continue to look forward and upward, this reminds us that we must not forget to look within our own planet.