Yellow Boxfish (Credit: Australia's Coral Coast)
Red & Black Anemonefish
There are a staggering 500 species of fish living around the Ningaloo Reef system, with 60-70% of all fishes belonging to ten families of fish. Common categories include Damselfish, Wrasses & Parrotfish, Surgeonfish, Angelfish, Triggerfish Trevallies & Jacks, Gobies & Blennies, Cods & Groupers, Trumpetfish & Flutemouths, Scorpionfish, Mooray Eels, Snappers & Sweetlips and Batfish.
The tropical waters of Australia have the largest number of Damselfish species in the world with well over one hundred species. Amongst the most popular of these are anemonefishes, with the Clark’s and Pink species popular sightings around the Great Barrier Reef. The Red & Black and Barrier Reef species can be seen year round across sections of the Great Barrier Reef whilst the Ningaloo area provides the opportunity to see Tomato Anemonefish and the endemic Australian Anemonefish.
There is also a huge diversity of Wrasses, with one-third of the world’s 600 species found in Australian waters. Divers will often spot these fish prodding around the seabed trying to eat marine invertebrates, and spitting sand and shells. They are easily recognised by their shape and ‘bird like’ way of swimming, with the beautiful Humpback Wrasse the largest in the family, growing up to two metres long. The Moon Wrasse is also commonly sighted across Ningaloo, often cleaning the resident population of Manta Rays. The Spotted-tail Wrasse is another endemic favourite in the Ningaloo region.
Parrotfishes are renowned for their strong teeth fused into plates that resemble a parrot’s beak. There are 30 species found in Australian waters, with their radiant colours a delight for any diver or snorkeller. During the day, they are often seen feeding on reef crests to strip off the algae that forms on the coral. They chew through substantial pieces of limestone during this process and discharge large quantities of white powder out of their mouths. The Steephead, Bicolour and Bluebarred Parrotfish are some of the more common sightings. One of the most famous residents of the reef is the Palette Surgeonfish, better known as Dory from Finding Nemo, characterised by its bright blue and black markings and yellow and black tail. The Convict Surgeonfish is a common sighting across the Ningaloo area, which also has a blade-like spine on each side of the tail base, used as a defence mechanism.
Perhaps the best known coral fish is the butterflyfish due to is striking colours and patterns and graceful shape. There are around 50 species in Australian waters, being almost half of the world’s species. Most feed partly or exclusively on live corals and can often be seen in pairs, which are permanent life time bonds. The Lined Butterflyfish is the largest species in the family, growing to 30cm and can be commonly sighted along with Blackback, Threadfin and Dot-and-Dash varieties. A close relative of the butterflyfish and equally as beautiful are Angelfish which feed on sponges and small invertebrates. Large Angelfish species produce loud drumming noise when agitated, with the Emperor Angelfish being one of the most adored. Angelfish undergo a stunning transformation in colour and patterns between their juvenile and adult stage.
Another highlight for snorkelers and divers is the opportunity to see a wide range of cods and groupers, characterised by their stocky body and large mouths. The largest bony fish associated with coral reefs is the Giant Grouper, which can weigh up to an astounding 400kg and grow to nearly 3 metres in length. These can be seen across the Great Barrier Reef and Ningaloo Reef. The Potato Cod and beautifully speckled Coral Cod are also popular sightings across both regions.
Summer: Dec-Feb, Ningaloo & Exmouth
During the summer months around Coral Bay, Manta Rays form incredible mating chains, with up to 15 males fighting for position to mate with a single female. The region is home to a healthy resident population of around 600 Manta Rays, with Eagle and large Bull Rays also abundant in this area.
The regions diverse array of sharks, rays, turtles and large fish make regular use of ‘cleaning stations’, where smaller creatures and fish such as Cleaner Wrasse, come out to clean parasites and diseased or dead tissue from these creatures. The marine life found at Ningaloo is incredibly diverse, with 300 coral species, 600 different molluscs, and around 500 species of fish in the region. Popular fish sightings range from Parrotfish, Butterflyfish, Angelfish, Damselfish, Scissor Tails, Flutemouths, Wrasse, to larger fish such as Groper, Barracuda, Coral Trout, Cod and Trevally.
Whitetip and Blacktip Reef Sharks, Great and Scalloped Hammerheads, Bronze Whalers, Cat Sharks, Olive Sea Snakes, Moray Eels and the well-camouflaged Wobbegong are also highlights for dive enthusiasts.
Autumn: Mar-May, Ningaloo & Exmouth
In Autumn each year, the incredible mass spawning of coral takes between seven and 10 days after the full moon in March and April. This event triggers the arrival of krill and plankton which in turn creates a feeding frenzy for numerous fish species, including the regions most famous resident, the massive Whale Shark. This region is a haven for the world’s largest fish, with Whale Sharks of 12 metres length seen in the area. They spend plenty of time at the surface to feed and warm up from the sun’s rays. The opportunity to swim with these graceful and passive giants is an awe-inspiring experience.
The marine life found at Ningaloo is incredibly diverse, with 300 coral species, 600 different molluscs, and around 500 species of fish in the region. Popular fish sightings range from Parrotfish, Butterflyfish, Angelfish, Damselfish, Scissor Tails, Flutemouths, Wrasse, to larger fish such as Groper, Barracuda, Coral Trout, Cod and Trevally. A huge variety of nudibranches are a delight for enthusiasts due to their spectacular colours.
Whitetip and Blacktip Reef Sharks, Great and Scalloped Hammerheads, Bronze Whalers, Cat Sharks, Manta Rays, Eagle Rays, Bull Rays and the well-camouflaged Wobbegong are highlights for divers whilst Manta Rays can be seen in performing their incredible courtship dances around April, with the species growing up to 7 metres wide (disc width) and around 1,350 kg (2,980 lb).
Winter: Jun-Aug, Ningaloo & Exmouth
The winter season coincides with Coral Spawn & Plankton reaching its highest concentration in the region, meaning the marine biodiversity at this time is incredible. The most famous resident of the region, the enormous Whale Shark, is seen until the end of July feasting on the krill and plankton. Manta Rays can also be seen gracefully dancing around Exmouth, feeding on zooplankton.
With 300 coral species, 600 different molluscs, and around 500 species of fish in the region it is a snorkellers and divers delight. Popular fish sightings range from Parrotfish, Butterflyfish, Angelfish, Damselfish, Cardinalfish, Scissor Tails, Flutemouths, Wrasse, to larger fish such as Groper, Coral Trout, Basslets, Cod and Trevally.
Ningaloo is primarily a hard coral reef with Finger Coral, Staghorn, Porites common in the area, whilst at the top of the Exmouth Gulf around the Muiron Islands, there is a stunning array of colourful soft corals including Gorgonian Fans, sponges such as Callyspongia, Golf Ball Sponge, Mushroom Leather Coral and different species of tree coral. A huge variety of Nudibranches are a delight for enthusiasts due to their spectacular colours and are so named because most of them have exposed gills.
Grey Nurse Sharks congregate around the Navy Pier during the winter months, competing for space with the Whitetip Reef Sharks and Wobbegongs.
Spring: Sep-Nov, Ningaloo & Exmouth
Ningaloo Reef is one of the world's largest fringing reefs, with this intricate ecosystem branching over 260 km and, at some points, is only metres from the beach. This is an ideal time to see Manta Rays along the reef near Exmouth, that are present feeding on the plankton rich water.
There are around 500 species of fish in the region including Parrotfish, Butterflyfish, Angelfish, Damselfish, Scissor Tails, Flutemouths, Wrasse through to larger fish such as Groper, Coral Trout, Giant Potato Cod and Trevally. A keen eye will be able to spot the Sailfin Catfish which is endemic to the region and present year round.
More than 50 per cent of Indian Ocean coral species are found across the Ningaloo Marine Park area, with over 300 species, including Finger, Staghorn, Porites Cabbage, Brain, Lavender, Plate, Mushroom, Bubble and Branching Corals. Whilst not a coral, Anemone’s are common, providing habitat for some of the reef’s most endearing residents; the Clarkes, Pink and Tomato Anemonefish.