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Marine life - Malaysia


Borneo forms the northwestern edge of the Coral Triangle - the global hotspot for marine biodiversity with more species of fish, critters and coral than anywhere else on the planet. Peninsular Malaysia isn't far behind!


Chevron barracuda

barracuda shutterstock 125146901

Sphyraena putnamae 

The most obvious trait for ID is the black upper and lower caudal fins plus, of course, the series of chevron bars in adults. Large schools of chevron or sawtooth barracuda can form during the day chasing each others tails – a spiralling, typhoon of fish. Divers if they approach carefully can get right to the eye of the storm and be surrounded by fish. This species can be found from the Red Sea to the eastern Pacific. Sipadan is famous for it large schools





Platax boersii 

Various species of batfish can be found in tropical waters from the Red Sea through to the Pacific. The Boers batfish, or golden batfish or spadefish is a common sight in Malaysian waters hovering in large schools off drop-offs. They can be as big as 40cm. The juvenile is far more triangular in shape with an elongated dorsal fin.



Bumphead parrotfish

bumphead parrotfish

Bolbometopon muricatum 

Another impressive schooling fish common in Malaysia, the bumphead can grow to 1.2m and is easy to identify by the large lump on their foreheads. This is the largest of the parrotfish family and like their relatives are herbivores and use their hard beaks to scrape algae and coral from the hard rock surface of the reef. It is thought they also use their bulbous heads to breakdown the coral.




  • Amphiprion_frenatus
  • Amphiprion_ocellaris
  • Amphiprion_percula

 There are 30 species of anemonefish and a wide range live on the reefs of Malaysia - you will see them on virtually every dive. Clownfish, as they are commonly called and sea anemones have a symbiotic, mutualistic relationship, each providing a number of benefits to the other. The sea anemone protects the clownfish from predators, as well as providing food through the scraps left from the anemone's meals and occasional dead anemone tentacles. In return, the clownfish defends the anemone from its predators, and parasites. The anemone also picks up nutrients from the clownfish's excrement, and functions as a safe nest site.




mandarin shutterstock 58196068

Synchiropus splendidus

These beautiful fish are so common around Mabul and Kapalai that one dive site is known as Mandarin Valley. They live in coral rubble in shallow waters and feed on the algae that lives on the damaged corals. The mating dance takes place at dusk and is a great start to an early night dive. The female is coaxed out by the male and together they spiral above the reef climaxing in a spray of eggs and sperm before darting back into the rubble.



Goldenspecs jawfish


Opistognathus sp

Jawfish live in burrows which they rarely leave - sometimes to feed, to mate and to settle territorial disputes. To spot them you have to move carefully over the reef as they dart back down their burrows as the first sign of danger. All jawfish are mouth brooders and the eggs take eight days to mature. New species are occasionally found around Mabul.



Peacock mantis shrimp

Mantis shrimp

Odontodactylus scyllarus

Mantis shrimps have the most complex eyes in the animal kingdom. Their powerful limbs spear or club their prey using one of the fastest responses known to man– some reach velocities of around 10 metres per second, producing a force approaching that of a 22 calibre bullet. The peacock mantis shrimp or, as it is often known, the harlequin mantis shrimp is one of the larger and more fierce species and can reach 18cm in length. Its punch has been known to shatter aquariums.



Flamboyant cuttlefish

Flamboyant cuttlefish

Metasepia pfefferi

One of the weirder cephalopods that can be found around Sabah. It uses it lower arms to walk across sandy areas of reef stalking small fish and shrimps. After spotting its prey they sometimes adopt a 'king fu' position before snatching the victim. When disturbed a pulsating display of brown and white strips moves over its body while it waves its purple and yellow arms over its head - no doubt to warn potential predators that is is poisonous.


White banded cleaner shrimp 
white banded cleaner shrimp unknown Soren Egeberg photography
Lysmata amboinensis

The cleaner shrimp is often found in groups, it will set up a cleaning station on coral reefs or rubble, waiting for fish to come and be cleaned. It feeds on ectoparasites or dead tissue that it picks from the body and oral cavities/gills of  fish such as tangs, groupers and moray eels.


Malaysia Video


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