Wednesday, August 17, 2011

What fish you will see when snorkeling on Kauai


You’ve got the whole family suited up with snorkel gear, floaties and fins and you’re ready to hit the reef. Perhaps you just got out of the water and are feeling that sense of awe that accompanies your first family snorkel trip. Your seven year old asks, “Daddy, what was that black one with the yellow stripes? Did you see that fluorescent pink one with the blue fins?” You will want to know what you saw or what to expect. There are a number of fish that are impossible to miss if you snorkel in Hawaii. Several of these species are described below.

Most likely the first fish you will encounter while snorkeling is the Saddle Wrasse. The Saddle Wrasse is endemic to Hawaii, meaning that you won’t find it anywhere else in the world. Wrasses are a diverse group of colorful fish and are usually the dominant family on the coral reef. The Saddle Wrasse can be identified by the orange band or “saddle” that is present behind its blue-green head. This fish sports an elongated purplish-green body and males may display a white band behind the orange saddle.


It is nearly impossible to snorkel in Hawaii and not run across the Manini or Convict Surgeonfish. The body of the Convict Surgeonfish is ovate with a greenish or silvery cast and displays six vertical black stripes like the prison inmate uniforms seen in the old movies, thus the name. This fish has a small puckering mouth that it uses to feed on algae and a pair of sharp weapons near the tail.


Moorish Idols are very common on the reef. They are often found in pairs or groups and are very easy to spot. Called “Angelfish” by many newcomers for the long filament that trails from the dorsal fin, they are actually more closely related to Surgeonfish than true Angelfish. Moorish Idols display two wide black bars on the body and one the tail. The center of the body is a sunny yellow color and the face is black with a yellow drop that adorns the top of a pointed snout.

Now that you recognize some of these fish, you might be interested in identifying more. Pick up one of those cheap Hawaii Fish ID cards that can be found at all the snorkel rental locations for use at the beach. Then get yourself a field guide like John Randall’s Shore Fishes of Hawaii or John Hoover’s Hawaii’s Fishes. For the kids, pick up a copy of The Complete Hawaiian Reef Fish Coloring Book, which includes over 80 species of fish that the kids can color in while also learning about their coloration, body shapes, feeding habits and the importance of conservation.

Don’t forget that the reef is a delicate place. Avoid touching the reef and apply your ecofriendly sunscreen 15 minutes before entering the water. For more information about how to protect Hawaii’s coral reefs, please visit Kauai based conservation organization, Save our Seas.

Pictures courtesy of John Coney, UHH MOP

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