As a Red Sea resort, you'd expect to find a wide range of marine life around Aqaba. And it delivers, with a good range of critters, fish life and invertebrates on show. What it lacks in big pelagics it makes up for in the diversity and profusion of its corals. Aqaba's sites are rich in colour and have not been worked as hard as some sites found further south. Excellent viz, warm waters and easy access sites making diving here a joy.


 

  Hawksbill turtle Eretmochelys imbricata 

hawksbill shutterstock 125735465

There's something special about these weary wanderers, which are frequent visitors to Aqaba's reefs, attracted by the healthy sponges and corals upon which they graze. The hawksbill puts the distinctive beak, for which it is named to good use, when munching on a clump of the reef.They also have a fondness for consuming jellyfish. Although migratory and occupying a wide range, they are often spotted on reef ledges. For the most part, they seem unconcerned by divers and provided they are given sufficient space you can enjoy lengthy encounters with them.


 

• Yellow-mouthed moray Gymnothorax nudivomer

Weird open-mouthed stary-eyed creatures peer out of reef walls watching your every move. The chances are on that almost every dive in Aqaba a moray eel is checking you out. The yellow-mouthed or starry moray is a a particular favourite with divers by virtue of buttercup yellow mouth. Although of somewhat scary appearance and harbouring some nasty toxins in their teeth, morays are shy creatures that will try to stay hidden. Given that they seek out nooks and crannies in the reef, it pays dividends to be aware of where you put your hands to avoid a painful nip or worse.

IMAGE: marinelife15.jpg from Dropbox. Caption: A yellow-mouthed moray is an inviting photo opportunity  

• Cabbage coral Turbinaria reniformis

Bleaching, aquarium harvesting and crown-of-thorn starfish are just some of the threats that the delicate cabbage coral has to face. Jordan's populations are holding up better than most, which is fortunate as these large cabbage-shaped growths are hugely impressive. Characterised by their overlapping plates the reef-building coral can grow up to 1m in diameter at sites such as Gorgone 1. Cabbage corals definitely bear closer scrutiny on a dive, and the experienced diver will pause and wait to see the rich number of critters hidden amid its plates – follow their example, it's worth it. 

IMAGE: GG to sort

• Lionfish Pterois volitans

Considered a pest in the Caribbean where they were foolishly introduced and have no natural predators, here in their home habitat of the Indo-Pacific they are a welcome sight. Lionfish are instantly recognisable from their striped bodies and waving fans of spines. They prey on small fish and invertebrates and largely seen on their own but sometimes in small groups. Although fiercely territorial with other fish, they seem unbothered by the presence of divers – a good thing too as those colourful spines are full of venom. 

IMAGE: marinelife1_dl.jpg from Dropbox. Caption: Lionfish are synonymous with Red Sea reefs 

• Blue-spotted ray Taeniura lymma

One of the species of ray that is seen most frequently on Jordan dives, the blue-spotted ray's characteristic markings make it an attractive proposition for underwater photographers. They are often seen in sandy areas near reefs and feed on small fish and molluscs, which they hunt out from beneath the sand. Although a relatively small species at only 30cm across, they make a wonderful addition to the diversity and colour of the reefs. 

IMAGE: GG to sort

• Napoleon wrasse Cheilinus undulatus

It's always a huge thrill to see one or more of these wonderful fish. It's not only their large size they makes them so attractive but also their fleshy lips, beautiful blue-green scales and large nervous eyes which flicker nervously as if to say "Please don't hurt me". Anthropomorphism aside, they can be very inquisitive and will approach divers very closely, they've even been known to form bonds with regular divers. The name comes from the sizeable humps on their heads which are said to resemble Napoleon's hat and getting bigger as they age. Sadly, napoleon wrasse populations are under threat worldwide, so consider any encounter a privilege.

IMAGE: GG to sort

• Seagrass Halophila stipulacea

Seagrass is one of underwater Aqaba's most important resources, providing food and habitat to a number of creatures, including fish species such as wrasse and damselfish. It also attracts feeding turtles and provides cover for a myriad of critters, including seahorses, pipefish and shrimps. The beds expand and contract seasonally providing a constant change in the underwater landscape. Fortunately, seagrasses appear to be doing better in Aqaba than other parts of the Red Sea and as a result improves the biodiversity of the region. 

IMAGE: GG to sort

• Frogfish Antennariidae

Head for Aqaba's wrecks to see examples of these wonderful creatures which are such a prized spot among divers. Relatively small and often superbly camouflaged their natural habitat is the sea floor and they are often seen on wrecks by the eagle-eyed among us. If you're lucky enough to see a frogfish hunting, you'll need those sharp eyes as attacks are incredibly quick. They may seem misshapen rather than streamlined, but once in position they suck their prey in at speeds measured in milliseconds. 

IMAGE: GG to sort

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