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Tips to Identify Coral and Marine Life

Know Your Underwater Critters

Learn the different types of fish and coral and your dives will become more enjoyableThe ocean contains more than 21,000 fish species and over 1,000 species of corals. Needless to say, it’s quite the task to try and identify everything you see, especially when there are another 80,000 other species in the water – many of which are easily confused with fish or coral when they aren’t. That’s one of the wonders of the ocean; what you see isn’t always what it seems. What looks like a plant may be an animal, what swims like a fish may be a snail and that rock actually may be a fish. So how do you identify all these wonderful organisms?

  • Bring a slate with you on all dives so you can take notes or make a quick sketch. That way, once you’ve dried off, you can look things up in a reference book.

  • Many PADI Dive Shops or Resorts sell waterproof fish and coral identification charts listing the most commonly sighted local species. Bring these with you on the dive for instant classification.

  • Make friends underwater like this diver and Goliath GrouperBring a magnifying glass to spot tiny clues or details.

  • Be still and quiet underwater so you can observe normal animal behaviors. These will give you clues to their identities.

  • Keep an open mind and be prepared to be surprised. Just because it’s green and stuck to a rock doesn’t mean it’s a plant. Look for small waving tentacles or other purposeful movement to give you a clue that is actually a type of anemone, coral or sea squirt.

  • Make an underwater camera part of your scuba gear. That way you can capture images of unidentified aquatic life for identification later.

  • Consider getting to know the local aquatic life by taking an AWARE Fish Identification or PADI Underwater Naturalist course.

  • Visit the local fish market to see what the catch of the day is called.

  • Learn more about coral reef conservation, which may include an introduction to the corals in your area.