Ever since Finding Nemo brought the already iconic Great Barrier Reef further into the spotlight, clown fish have become one of the most loved fish by divers and non-divers alike. But these cheeky little guys aren’t the only ones that inhabit Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. There are over 1500 different species of fish you can spot when diving the Great Barrier Reef, and we’ve created a checklist of the top ten.

Maori Wrasse

Male humphead Wrasse can be distinguished by their turquoise and green colouring, striking pattern and big lips.
Male humphead Wrasse can be distinguished by their turquoise and green colouring, striking pattern and big lips.

Maori wrasse are one of the friendliest fish in the sea. Covered in intricate patterns, this fish can grow to over 2 metres, making it one of the biggest reef fishes in the world. The incredible thing about Maori wrasse is that females can change to males if they wish. It’s not fully understood why these fish do this, but one theory is that if there is not enough males in an area, a female will step up and become a male. These fish usually hang around in the same area, so a dive site you visit in the Great Barrier Reef may even have it’s own resident Maori Wrasse.

Parrot fish

Parrot fish not only share the bright colours that feathered parrots too, but this gorgeous fish also has a tiny beak that it uses to scrape off the coral for a delicious snack. These fish never learned to eat quietly like the rest if us, and the sound of them munching on the coral will ring through the water whilst you’re scuba diving on the Great Barrier Reef.  Parrot fish are actually after the algae that lies within the coral, and once they’ve digested that they will excrete the coral onto the oceans’ sandy floor. Like the Maori Wrasse, the Parrot Fish can change gender from female to male.

Anemone Fish

A clown fish hides in an anemone. Image by Steve De Neef.
A clown fish hides in an anemone. Image by Steve De Neef.

Of course clown fish would get a mention on a Great Barrier Reef ultimate fish list, who am I kidding!? Anemone and clown fish have a symbiotic relationship. It’s basically natures way of saying, if you scratch my back I’ll scratch yours. Clown fish develop a thick mucous layer which allows them to avoid being stung by the anemone. The clown fish pays its rent to the anemone by cleaning it, providing it with nutrients and scaring away potential predators. That’s why when you swim right up to an anemone, the clown fish inhabiting it will rise to the challenge and swim right up to you, sometimes even banging it’s tiny orange head on your mask.

Potato cod

Diving with a fish the same size as you is always a thrilling experience.
Diving with a fish the same size as you is always a thrilling experience.

Potato cod can grow to a whopping 2 metres, and their mottled pattern and friendly disposition make them a firm favourite among divers.

One of the best places to spot this species is at the Cod Hole in Osprey Reef, Australia. One of the most famous dive sites in the world, here you can find a whole family of friendly, car-sized potato cods. Diving the Cod Hole is a must do if you’re planning a dive live aboard adventure in Australia, and most Great Barrier Reef live aboards will work this site into their itinerary. Aussie dive live aboards such as Spirit of Freedom and Spoilsport offer trips that specifically include a visit to this wonderful site.

Lion fish

Lion fish by Paul Cowell
Lion fish by Paul Cowell

Simultaneously one of the most venomous and most beautiful fish in the sea, so definitely don’t try and touch it!  In some parts of the world the lion fish is an invasive pest, but in Australia populations are healthy.

 Stone fish

See why it's so hard to distinguish the stone fish from its surroundings?!
See why it’s so hard to distinguish the stone fish from its surroundings?!

This strange looking and well camouflaged fish is another deadly predator. It looks exactly like the surrounding rocks and coral, and lies partially buried in the sand. If stepped on, it will continue to lie motionless but will erect its 13 sharp, venom filled spines resulting in an incredibly painful sting.

Butterfly fish

These fish  are one of the most common fish you will see when diving the Great Barrier Reef, but that doesn’t make them any less beautiful. There are 114 different kinds of butterfly fish, and you can distinguish them from their small size, brightly patterned bodies and most species will have a spot on their flank that resembles an eye. This helps them confuse their predators, as they will be unsure which is the end with a head and thus not know which way this little fish will swim when attacked. Butterfly fish are hopeless romantics, and mate for life.

Angel fish

An intricately patterned Koran angelfish.
An intricately patterned Koran angelfish.

A close relative of the butterfly fish, the angel fish can be distinguished by it’s bright colours and ‘halo’, a vibrant line of colour that surrounds the body of this reef dweller.  Keep an eye out for the lovely Koran angelfish whilst you’re scuba diving on the reef.

Moorish Idol

This fish is easily recognisable by it’s contrasting colours of yellow, white and black and long dorsal fin which trails behind it like a cape. Like the butterfly fish, these fish mate for life.

Triggerfish

Keep an eye out for the Picasso and Titan trigger fish on your Australian dive adventure!
Keep an eye out for the Picasso and Titan trigger fish on your Australian dive adventure! Image by Christoper Gug

I have a love hate relationship with this fish. Picasso and Titan triggerfish are incredibly territorial, and can deliver a nasty bite if you head near their nesting area. Male trigger fish build hollow nests, and avoiding these nests is harder than you think! Their territory is a cone shape that starts at the nest and then spreads outwards above it. You could be diving 10 metres overhead and still be in this fishes territory, and they’re not shy about letting you know! The titan trigger fish is a large species of this fish, and can be distinguished from it’s oval, patterned body,

 White tip reef shark

White tip reef sharks are the puppies of the shark world. Small, slender and usually quite skittish this timid species of shark can be seen slinking in between coral reefs. They feed at after the sun goes down, so your chances of seeing them are greatly increased if you decide to do a night dive. Before you head off on your next dive trip, check out our latest post on how to become a better night diver.

The Great Barrier Reef is a must-visit dive destination for any one who loves coral reefs and diving with an abundance of fish and marine life. There’s a reason that ‘great’ is included in its title!

Have you got a favourite reef fish we haven’t mentioned here? Let us know by leaving a comment.

2 thoughts on “10 fish to look for when diving on the Great Barrier Reef.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s