Marine life of Malapascua

Let’s have a look at the marine life of Malapascua.

“The world’s largest concentration of marine life is found in the Philippines, more specifically in the Visayan Sea.” – Dr. K.E. Carpenter, Department of Biological Sciences, Old Dominion University, USA.

Located in the heart of the Philippines, the Visayan Sea is rich with mind-blowingly beautiful wonderful and weird marine life. In fact, this area has been described as the “epicenter” of marine biodiversity on earth. First of all, there are close to 1000 species of fish. Secondly, there are over 500 coral variations. Thirdly, you can find countless other invertebrates including 100’s of different nudibranchs. The island of Malapascua has a prime position in the Visayan Sea. Malapascua has an incredible diversity of marine life populating its nearby waters. Check out some of Malapascua’s dive sites.

This list is just a small sample of some of the more common species seen on dives and a great sample of marine life of Malapascua Island;

  • Sharks and Rays
  • Fish
  • Seahorses and pipefish
  • Cepholopods
  • Moray Eels
  • Sea snakes
  • Nudibranchs
  • Corals
  • Crabs and Shrimp
  • Echinoderm
  • Molluscs


Marine life of Malapascua

Sharks and Rays:

Thresher shark
Marine life of MalapascuaMalapascua is one of the few places in the world where you can see this fascinating predator regularly. You can spot two species often: first of all the common thresher shark (alopias vulpinus). which grows up to 6m. Secondly the smaller pelagic thresher shark (alopias pelagicus), which grows up to 3m. Named for it’s exceptionally long tail, (accounting for half its body length) thresher sharks are not a threat to humans. These powerful creatures use their tail to “thresh” and stun their prey. This includes schooling pelagic fish (such as sardines and tuna), squid, cuttlefish and even seabirds.



Whitetip reef shark
This small (1.6m) shark is commonly seen resting on the bottom or in caves during the day. Unlike other sharks the white tip can pump water over its gills. Hence, it does not have to keep swimming in order to breath. Generally not aggressive towards humans, these sharks sometimes approach divers out of curiosity.

Hammerhead shark
The hammerheads are well known for the distinctive shape of their head. Unlike other sharks, hammerheads school during the day, often by the hundreds. However, at night they become solitary hunters. They pose little threat to humans. However humans fish these prehistoric looking creatures for their fins. You can see hammerheads around Malapascua from December through April. The locations are dive sites near the open ocean and deep water.

Bamboo Shark
The bamboo sharks are small (up to ~1m) bottom dwelling sharks found on coral reefs throughout the Pacific Ocean. They are fairly docile creatures and come out at night to feed on small fish and invertebrates. The adults are entirely brownish with only a faint hint of a pattern. On the other hand, the juveniles have very distinct bands. Active at night these sharks eat fish, mollusks and crustaceans.

Marine life of Malapascua

Manta ray

The manta rays are the largest member of the ray family. As a result they can grow up to 7m in wingspan and may live up to 50 years. You can often see these majestic creatures alone or in groups of up to 50. They seem to “fly” through the water. Mantas are filter feeders and swim with their mouths open continually feeding on plankton. They have a large forward-facing mouth with horn-shaped cephalic fins on either side. You can sometimes see manta rays at cleaner stations on the reef. Here they stop and allow “cleaner fish” to remove parasites and dead skin.

Devil ray

The devil rays look very similar to mantas but are smaller. Like mantas, they are plankton feeders and have the distinctive cephalic fins. As a result, it helps direct water flow and plankton into their mouths.

Eagle ray

The eagle rays are a group of rays which you can find in many of the world’s oceans. Unlike mantas and devil rays, the mouth of the eagle ray faces downwards. Therefor they have tough flattened teeth for feeding on mollusks and crustaceans. On the other hand, their tails are often very long compared to other rays. As a result they can reach total lengths up to 9m. You can often spot eagle rays breaching. They are very strong swimmers and can jump several meters above the surface.

Blue spotted stingray

Stingrays are related to mantas and eagle rays but are smaller. They have a poisonous “stinger” or barb on their tail. The blue spotted stingray, easily identified by its bright blue spots, therefore should be treated with caution. On the other hand, they only reach about 40cm in width and about 1m in length. This is including the barbed tail. You can see these stingrays often partially buried in the sand around coral reefs.

Marine life of Malapascua


Mandarin fish
Dive sites of MalapascuaThe Mandarin fish, also called Mandarin dragonet, is a member of the dragonet family. Dragonets, or “little dragons”, are small, highly colorful fish with cryptic patterns.  As a result, the Mandarin fish is known to be one of the most vibrantly coloured of them all. However, they are difficult to see on the reef most of the time. You can often see mandarin fish in the evenings when males engage in mating rituals. During this ritual they display their bright colors and fancy fins to lure females to mate.




Moorish idol
These beautiful tropical fish are noted for their wide distribution throughout tropical oceans. You can identify moorish idols by black and yellow vertical bars, long white sickle shaped dorsal fins, and a bright orange blotch at the base of its snout. Strangely enough, even with such a distinct shape and color pattern there are a few butterfly fish that look very similar (see schooling banner fish). They grow up to 24cm in length and use their long snout to feed on algae and sponges picked off the reef. You can see moorish idols often in pairs or sometimes in large groups.

Lion fish (common and dwarf)
The lion fish are a type of scorpion fish. These elaborate fish have brightly coloured reddish, white, and black stripes as a warning to predators that they are highly venomous. Their ornate fins are equipped with long poisoned spines. Lion fish, effective ambush predators, hunt small fish and crustaceans. You can often see two species of lion fish on the reef. First of all common lion fish, which grow to 38cm. Secondly the dwarf lion fish, which grow to 17cm.

Marine life of Malapascua

Parrot fish
You can find parrot fish all over the world in shallow tropical and sub-tropical oceans. Most certainly you can find several species of parrot fish on reefs around Malapascua. They are a named for their beak-like teeth and are often seen rasping algae off the coral. While much of their diet is vegetarian, parrot fish also eat the coral polyps and other organisms too.

The key role of the parrot fish on the reef is that of the constant gardener. Most importantly, these colorful fish spend their days eating algae and sick and dead corals thus helping to keep the reefs healthy. Some other interesting facts about parrot fish include their gender switching and how the spend their nights. Most parrot fish begin life as females. However, once they reach a certain size they become males. Also, many species protect themselves within a mucus bubble that hides their smell at night. You can spot sleeping parrot fish tucked in their mucus bubbles around the bottom of coral heads while night diving.

Bat fish
The bat fish have a very distinctive spade-like shape. These reef dwelling fish are silver with thick bands of black or brown and areas of bright yellow. However, bat fish are omnivores, they eat invertebrates and algae. Just like parrot fish, they have been shown to be important in keeping coral reefs algae free. These fish can be fairly large. You can often see them alone though occasionally they travel in large groups.

Marine life of Malapascua

Trigger fish
The trigger fish are a group of tropical reef fish that are easily distinguished by their body shape. They have a very flat (laterally compressed) oval shaped body and a large head. The forward facing mouth is very small for the body-size however it is fully equipped with strong shell crushing teeth. Their eyes are small and set far back towards the top of the head. The pelvic fins are also quite small. Their matching dorsal and anal fins are large and undulate side to side. Trigger fish are often brightly coloured with extravagant spots and markings.

Clown trigger fish

This fish has very unique coloration. It is black with large white dots on its lower half and a yellow leopard pattern on their back. Topped off by a yellow spot around its small toothy mouth. This small toothy mouth is oval shaped with a big face and its fins seem too small for its body. But don’t be fooled by the clown trigger fish’s funny appearance. They are very territorial and can be aggressive towards other fish. These fish can grow up to 50cm.

Titan trigger
These large trigger fish grow up to 75cm and you can often see them “working” on the reef during the day. Usually solitary, they busy themselves turning over rocks. They also like digging in the sand and breaking off bits of coral as they forage for urchins, crustaceans, mollusks, tubeworms and coral. Other reef fish often crowd around them, scavenging for tiny morsels and detritus that are stirred up. Usually wary of divers, a titan trigger fish will aggressively defend its nesting territory. Typically on sandy bottom they chase divers away. If chased by a titan trigger fish it is best to swim sideways rather than up. This leads you out of the nesting territory fastest!

Butterfly fish

Boldly coloured butterfly fish are among the most common site on tropical coral reefs. Most of the over 100 species have striking patterns in bright colours like yellow, orange, red, or blue. They have a thin disk-shaped body much like angelfish but can be distinguished by a few common traits. First of all they have a pointier snout. Secondly, often they have dark bars around their eyes. Thirdly, they are generally smaller than angelfish. Butterfly fish feed on plankton, coral, sea anemones, and small crustaceans by day and hide among the coral by night. We can often see smaller species in large brilliant schools.  You can’t miss them as they cruise around the reef.

Schooling banner fish (false Moorish idol)
These fish look remarkably similar to the Moorish idol. They are generally smaller in size, up to 18cm. If you look closely you can see other differences. The snout is smaller and, while the colors are the same, the bars are mostly black and white. Their fins are also different; notably, the tail fin is yellow rather than black.


The angelfish are one of the most conspicuous fish found on the reef with their vibrant colors and deep laterally compressed bodies. There are numerous species of angelfish, which look very much like butterfly fish. However they are distinguishable by a thorn-like spine on their gill cover. Active during the day, larger angelfish can be bold and sometimes approach divers.

The sweetlips, also commonly known as emperors, come in a multitude of varieties. Many of which are common reef fish. These fish feed on invertebrates and small fish. Adults can grow to large sizes and are a sought after eating fish. Juveniles travel in large conspicuous schools. You can often see them at dive sites around Malapascua.

Striped eel catfish

This interesting reef fish can reach a maximum length of 32cm. They are dark brown and have white stripes all the way from their whiskered catfish. Like head to the end of their eel-like tail. You can often see juveniles in tight schools of about 100 fish. In addition they dart in and about the reef as if they were one organism. Adults are more often solitary or in small groups. The dorsal and pectoral fins contain highly venomous spines.

File fish
The file fish, also called leatherjackets, are related to trigger fish, puffer fish, and trunk fish. In fact they look like a cross between all three! Their body shape is oval like a trigger fish but less compressed and with a more protruding mouth. Almost like a trunk- or puffer fish. File fish have a single large retractable dorsal spine that distinguishes them from their cousins. In conclusion, they get their name from their rough sandpaper like skin that was once dried and used to finish wooden boats.


This elongate fish is also known as the trumpetfish. Related to seahorses and pipe fish this fish can reach up to 1m in length. You can  often see them on the reef hovering low in the water column, hunting small fish.

Shrimp fish
The shrimp fish are named because of similar appearance to shrimp. They are flattened from side to side and semi transparent. Most importantly, you can easily distinguish these interesting fish by the manner in which they swim. They swim completely vertical with their heads pointed downward. You can often see shrimp fish in small groups swimming synchronously in this awkward fashion. While it might seem very un-fish like, their vertical orientation is a unique adaptation for hiding among sea urchin spines and sea grass.

Pegasus seamoth

Seamoths are a family of fish notable for their flattened body and large wing-like pectoral fins. They are highly camouflaged to match the bottom. They use their large fins to “walk” along the bottom. Specialized mouthparts allow this benthic fish to suck up prey such as worms and small invertebrates from their burrows.

Fingered dragonet
This dragonet lives on sandy weedy bottoms at depths from 1 to 55m. You can often see them on muck dives hovering over the bottom feeding on tiny crustaceans.

Marine life of Malapascua

Warty frog fish


The frogfish are more frog-shaped than fish-shaped. They are stocky, plump and short and not streamlined at all. A distinctive feature of this unique group of fish is that they have a modified dorsal fin that looks like a fishing rod. This rod is equipped with a lure at the end and they actually use this to fish for their prey. Frogfish generally lie very still while “fishing” for crustaceans and other fish and they have very cryptic and often unusual appearance. Their colouring and skin texture can resemble stone, bright coral or sponges, even sea urchins and seaweed. Their camouflage can be so good that other critters will crawl right over them. There are several species of frogfish around Malapascua including hairy frogfish and painted frogfish.

You can find many species of scorpionfish tropical oceans. These fish are mostly bottom dwellers and have a compressed body and long dorsal spines. They eat small crustaceans and fish. The “stinger” of the scorpionfish is in the form of very sharp venomous spines. Sometimes they are extremely well camouflaged to look like their surroundings. For example, look like the lionfish. They can have distinct patterns and elaborate fins. While some varieties are more poisonous than others, all should be regarded with caution.


The flounders are a very distinctive flat benthic fish. Their upwards-facing eyes are both on one side of their flattened body. They are almost always resting on the sea bottom. Flounders have outstanding camouflage and can even change their colouring and patterns to match their surroundings. They use their camouflage for protection from predators and also for hiding as they wait to ambush crustaceans, worms, or small fish to eat.

Flying gurnard
The flying gurnard do not actually fly. However, they are named for their very large colourful pectoral fins that look like wings. You can often observed that the flying gurnard uses small, modified pelvic fins to “walk” across sandy or muddy bottoms. They are looking for their next meal. Flying gurnards eat small crustaceans and invertebrates.

The sardines are small pelagic fish that often migrate along the shore in large schools. You can find sardines in all the world’s oceans. They are a very important food source for many fish, marine mammals and for humans too. A large group migrating close to shore is called a “sardine run”. The sardine run attracts predators like sharks, whales, dolphins, and tuna. When threatened, the small fish form huge tight “bait balls”. Witnessing this event while diving is an exhilarating experience to say the least!

Tuna and Mackerel

The pelagic fishes – tuna and mackerel – are in the same family, Scombridae. They are prized game fish found all over the world. Mostly predatory hunters, you can see these fish in deep water near drop-offs as well as in shallow water along coastal slopes. They have long silver powerful bodies and are some of the fastest swimming fish in the ocean. Tuna in particular are distinguished for being partially warm-blooded. This is unlike other fish and is an adaptation that allows them to maintain high speeds and activities levels.

Also known as jacks, species in this group are found throughout tropical oceans. You can find trevallies in a wide variety of habitats from deep water to shallower inshore slopes and reefs. Trevallies are silvery and have a compressed body, a blunt head, and a strongly forked pointy tail. You can often see this large predatory fish hunting crustaceans, fish, or squid in big schools.

The barracudas are a long bodied fish with a large pointy mouth full of very sharp teeth. Some species can be very large, reaching sizes up to 2m. Barracudas are known for being voracious opportunistic apex predators; they will scavenge for scraps from larger predators as well as hunt and even attack prey larger than themselves. They are known to occasionally follow divers, perhaps mistaking them for a large predator and hoping to scavenge a meal. Be aware around barracudas as they can deliver a very nasty bite.

Marine life of Malapascua

Seahorses and Pipefish:

In general you can easily distinguish seahorses because of the very horse-like appearance of their head and trunk. As a result they have a vertical swimming position and a long bony prehensile tail. This tail is often in a tight curl or being used to hang on to coral. Seahorses come in all colours but always blend in with their surroundings. However, they are known for their unique reproductive strategy. In other words, the males carry the eggs in a pouch in their lower abdomen until they hatch 4-5 weeks later.

Common seahorses
Aptly named, these seahorses are often brown or yellow and have smooth skin texture. They can grow up to 17cm long.

Pygmy seahorses
The pygmy seahorses are tiny, reaching sizes only up to 2 cm. They can have very varied skin texture and colouring and match their surroundings perfectly. You can find pygmy seahorses on gorgonians, other soft corals, or seaweed. The male is responsible for brooding the eggs until hatching. The eggs are stored in his trunk instead of a pouch.

Other seahorses

found here include Moluccan seahorse and Thorny seahorse.

All pipefish are related to seahorses however they swim horizontally and are straight like a pipe rather than curved. They have a long snout, and a long thin body covered in hard armour. Like seahorses, the males care for the eggs, brooding them in a pouch or egg sac until they hatch. You can see many species of tropical pipefish ranging from very brightly coloured, very plain and dull.

Banded pipefish
The banded pipefish grows up to 19 cm in length. It has distinct black and yellow bands and a roundish, bright orange tail fin.

White mushroom coral pipefish
You can find this appropriately named pipefish only amongst the long tentacles of mushroom corals. They are long, thin, and completely white, perfectly camouflaged to match their coral host.

Other species of pipefish that you can see here include Schultz’ pipefish, orange banded pipefish, bent stick pipefish, straight stick pipefish, and whiskered pipefish

Ghost pipefish

The ghost pipefish are not actually pipefish. While they look quite similar and are related to pipefish and seahorses it is more of a distant relationship. These interesting creatures are masters of disguise. They camouflage themselves to fit in flawlessly with their surroundings and can look like a leaf, an arm of a feather-star, algae, seagrass, or sponges. Ghost pipefish range in size from about 10-15cm. The ghost pipefish, which you can often see in pairs, also differ from their distant cousins in reproductive strategy. The female, which is the larger of the two sexes, brood the eggs. Ghost pipefish are usually seasonal and are only present in the warmest time of the year. You can often see them in sheltered areas with mud or sand bottom (muck) around coral, sponges, or seaweed.

Robust ghost pipefish
The robust ghost pipefish are disguised to look like a piece of drifting seaweed. Whether they are green, grey, red, orange, pink or spotted they are extremely cryptic. Growing up to 17 cm, this is one of the largest species of ghost pipefish.

Marine life of Malapascua


They are not a fish at all but a mollusk related to octopus, squid and nautilus. Cuttlefish have large eyes, eight arms and two longer tentacles fully equipped with suckers. Inside their spade-shaped fleshy body (mantle) is a unique internal bone called a cuttle bone that is often found washed up along the shore. (You can recognise this chalky bone because it is sold as a dietary supplement for pet birds.) Cuttlefish, like other cephalopods, move using their fins or by jet propulsion. They are known for their ability to rapidly change skin colour to perfectly match their surroundings. They use their extreme camouflaged to sneak up on crabs and fish. You can find several species of cuttlefish around Malapascua.

Flamboyant cuttlefish
You can find this small cuttlefish throughout the Philippines and the Coral Triangle. They live on sand and mud bottom anywhere from 3-86m deep. Active during the day, they hunt fish and crustaceans using their ability to quickly change colour as camouflage. While this cuttlefish species grows to only 6cm in length its bite is highly poisonous.

Broadclub cuttlefish
The broadclub cuttlefish, which can grow up to 50cm, are the second largest species of cuttlefish. This is the most common reef dwelling cuttlefish. Moreover, you can see these masters of disguise displaying flashy colourful courtship rituals in shallow water. Mostly between January and May. During this time males are territorial guarding females and the nesting site.

Marine life of Malapascua

Cuttle fish at Ka Osting


All squid are cephalopods and, like cuttlefish, have eight arms and two long tentacles. The tentacles, which have strong suckers on them, are used for grabbing their prey. Squid generally have a torpedo shaped body with one long fin on either side. There are both shallow water and deep-sea species of squid. Squid can change the colour of their skin, they squirt ink when threatened. Around Malapascua you can see squid often in schools.

Bobtail squid
This fascinating little creature is another reason to go night diving on the muck. Bobtail squid, more closely related to cuttlefish than they are squid. They hide in the sand by day and come out at night to hunt. Resembling tiny little cuttlefish with a rounder shaped mantle they are generally between 1 and 8 cm in length. What makes this creature so extraordinary is that they glow in the dark. They have a symbiotic relationship with bioluminescent bacteria that live in a specialised light organ within the squid’s mantle. The squid’s underbelly glows, mimicking moonlight, making it essentially invisible to predators below.


Octopuses are well-known by their eight sucker-equipped arms surrounding their mouth. First of all, we think of these cephalopods to be the most intelligent (even cunning) of all invertebrates. Secondly they have an uncanny ability to disappear into their surrounding either through camouflage or fitting their soft bodies into impossibly small spaces. More importantly, octopuses can quickly change the colour of their skin to match their surrounding. The only hard part to this incredible creature is the very strong and sharp beak in its mouth. The rest of it is soft and flexible enough to melt into cracks and crevices. Octopuses also squirt dark ink when threatened thus confusing predators and clouding their escape.

Wonderpus octopus

What a beauty! You can find wonderpus octopus in shallow areas around the Philippines and the Coral Sea. Their common colouring is reddish brown and white bars and spots. Even for octopus, this species has exceptionally long arms. These cunning hunters are most active at dusk.

Blue-ringed octopus
Small but beautiful. The blue-ringed octopus, found in tide pools and coral reefs, are perhaps the most venomous creature in the ocean. Though they are small (12-20cm) and seemingly docile, this critter will bite if it thinks it is being attacked. Normally its skin is yellowish with blue and black rings but if it is agitated it will quickly change colours. Similarly it changes to to bright yellow with blue rings or lines and even appear to pulsating colours. Like all octopuses, they can change shape and squeeze themselves into tiny crevices and holes and they are active nocturnal hunters. They can be fascinating to watch but do not attempt to provoke them!

Moray eels:
First of all, you can find several species of moray eels in the area of Malapascua. More importantly, you can easily distinguish them by their long, stocky bodies, small faces, and large toothy mouths. Secondly, you can often see them with just their head and upper body protruding from their dens. Moray eels have a reputation of being vicious and ill tempered. However they are eel more often shy and reserved. However, they have very sharp, rear-hooked teeth and notoriously bad vision, which makes attempting to hand-feed them a very bad idea. Moray eels eat fish, crustaceans, and cephalopods.  You can find several species of morays around Malapascua.

Giant morays
The giant morays, reaching lengths up to 3m, are common on shallow seaweed reefs.

Snowflake morays

The snowflake morays are smaller, they can reach a length of up to 1 m. They are brilliantly patterned in black, white and yellow.
Other species of moray eels seen include white-eyed moray and bar tailed moray.

Sea snakes:
In general, you can find sea snakes in shallow water near land, around islands, on coral reefs, and near mangroves. They grow up to 150cm in length. Descended from land snakes, sea snakes spend their entire lives in the ocean and have evolved a paddle-like tail for swimming. Sea snakes do not have gills and must surface to breath (typically every 30min but they can stay underwater as long as 2hrs). Like their cousins the cobras, all sea snakes are venomous. Most species of sea snakes are generally docile, including the banded sea snake, but it is a good idea to treat these fascinating creatures with respect and caution.

Banded sea snake V
The banded sea snake, or banded sea krait, can reach lengths over 1 meter long and has distinct white and black bands. While some sea snakes species give birth to live young in the water, the banded sea snake belongs to a group that must leave the water to lay eggs on land. They also must emerge from the ocean to drink fresh water from time to time. Gato Island is a known breeding area for this species.

Marine life of Malapascua


Marine life of Malapascua

Nembrotha milleri

The nudibranchs are a marine gastropod. Similar to a snail without a shell, nudibranchs come in all sizes with some species growing up to 40cm. They are benthic critters and you can find them at all depths. You can see them crawling on mud or sand bottoms as well as on coral reefs and on seaweed. Nudibranchs include some of the most colourful creatures in the ocean. There are so many amazing nudibranchs around Malapascua that listing them all would take forever.C heck some photos here of some of the species you can find around Malapascua..

Marine life of Malapascua


Corals come in all sorts of shapes, sizes, and colours resembling anything from perfect spheres, bright little flowers, whimsical trees, or even your favourite vegetable – broccoli! However, corals are animals, not plants. Corals are marine invertebrates that are distantly related to jellyfish. What we generally think of as “coral” are actually colonies of hundreds of individual coral polyps. Each soft, radially symmetric polyp is only a few mm across and a few cm long and has tentacles around their “mouth” similar to an anemone. Like jellyfish, some coral polyps also have stinging cells in their tentacles that can be used for catching their plankton prey. Most corals feed at night and can have a very different appearance while doing so thus transforming the reef into a vastly different experience. You can divide coral into two groups: hard corals and soft corals.

Hard coral

The hard corals are what we generally think of when referring to coral. These are the hard skeleton-like corals. Each polyp secretes a calcium carbonate casing around itself for protection. Colonies can form large coral heads that continue to grow over time. Hard corals are the major reef builders of the oceans.
Most hard corals, especially those that live in shallower water, rely on their relationship with tiny photosynthetic algae for most of their energy and nutrition. Living safely within the polyp’s body, these symbiotic zooxanthellae are also responsible for the vibrant colour of the polyp.

Hard corals can reproduce in several ways. However about 75% of them are broadcast spawners. During a “coral spawning event”, broadcast spawning corals release large brightly coloured eggs and sperm into the water. This nighttime phenomenon often occurs as a “mass spawning”. Hence meaning that many species of corals will spawn at the same time. They cloud the water with glowing gametes. Subsequently creating a otherworldly and unforgettable experience.
In conclusion, corals in this group include stag-horn coral, brain coral, rock coral, mushroom coral, and pillar coral.

Soft coral

The soft corals are soft and flexible and can often have fanciful shapes. Unlike hard corals, the skeleton these polyps secrete is contained within their bodies more like a core. Soft corals body shapes range from small and compact to large and tree-like. Most importantly at night they actively feed by extending their long tentacles into the currents to ensnare plankton. Though not all soft corals have zooxanthellae, some are brightly coloured while others have more subdued pastel colouring. Corals in this group include gorgonians, like sea fans and sea whips, and tree corals.

Marine life of Malapascua

Crabs and shrimp:

Box crabs
The box crabs are distinguishable by their bulky carapace. They hold their large flattened claws often close to their face. There are several species around Malapascua. Including the red-spotted box crab that can grow up to 15cm across. During they day, the box crabs often hide in the sand. On the other hand, they emerge at night to feed on molluscs, such as clams.

Decorator crabs
Members of this group of crabs have a special tactic for hiding from predators. They purposefully stick algae, weeds, sponges, even rocks and shells to their backs for camouflage.

Porcelain anemone crab
This beautiful little crab is quite common on coral reefs in this area however they are very elusive and shy. They are almost always hiding among the tentacles of their anemone host and can be very hard to see. Porcelain anemone crab are only about 5 cm wide. They have cream coloured with red markings. These crabs are filter feeders.

Xeno crab
This is one of the many tiny yet amazing crabs found on the coral reef. First of all you can find Xeno crabs exclusively on the branches of whip coral. Secondly you can see the pointy-faced critters in pairs or in groups of juveniles but you have to look very closely to spot them. The Xeno crab is highly camouflaged, because they match their host.

Candy crab
The candy crabs, if you can spot them, look like tiny colourful sweets. Exclusively found on soft corals, candy crabs can be white, yellow, pink, or red to match the colour of their host. This tiny crab, which grows 1.5 to 2 cm, will even attach coral polyps to its back for camouflage.

Marine life of Malapascua

More Crabs and shrimp:

Smashing mantis shrimp
These beautiful alien-like creatures are known for their extraordinary strength and predatory ability. In fact they are named for the sort of claw they have: smashing. Most importantly this smashing claw has developed into a club-like weapon that they use with lightening speed to literally smash their prey. For instance, they can smash aquarium glass when in captivity. Smashing mantis shrimp are more active at night. On the other hand, these large critters (up to 30 cm long) will often remain in the opening of their burrow to hunt opportunistically or roam the area hunting for prey. Mantis shrimp can have a variety of colours. For instance like brown, red and even neon.

Banded boxer shrimp
These beautiful little white and red striped shrimp are the shrimp icon of the coral reef. They are about 6 cm long and have long banded claws, delicate antennae and a very spiny appearance. To clarify, you can often see banded boxer shrimps in pairs on walls and overhangs. These busy critters also set up shop at cleaning stations. They attract clientele by waving their banded claws and long white antennae. Subsequently they make a meal while fish (or sharks or rays) get a good cleaning.

Harlequin shrimp
You can find find his colourful shrimp on shallow tropical coral reefs. It is often cream or white with large red or purple spots. Harlequin shrimp grow up to 5 cm in length and live in pairs. To clarify, this species feeds exclusively on the tube feet of starfish. Two working together can even flip a larger starfish over and kill it within a few days.

Other shrimp include: Coleman’s shrimp, feather star shrimp, and various other species of anemone & commensal shrimp

Marine life of Malapascua


The feather-stars are fascinating creatures related to sea stars and sea urchins. You can find them all over the oceans and at all depth. You can often see feather stars on coral reefs using claw like arms to cling to the substrate. In the meantime they spread their many feather-like arms into the currents to feed. They come in a multitude of different colours. For example, from brown to maroon, to bright yellow. Feather-stars can crawl along the reef and they can also release from the substrate and use their multicoloured feathery arms to “swim”.

Fire urchin
The fire urchins are a large tropical sea urchin. A common site near the reef on sand bottom. They tend to hide during the day and come out at night to graze. Among their spines many commensal critters seek protection. Just like zebra crabs and tiny juvenile fish. Most importantly, though they do have venom, they are not toxic to humans. However, don’t get poked by them, it is very painful.

You can find several different species of sea stars around Malapascua Island.

Marine life of Malapascua;

Other molluscs:

Cone snail
You can find many species of cone snails found on coral reefs all over the world.  First of all cone snails are large predatory, carnivorous snails. Secondly, they can live on coral or on sandy bottoms. The elongate, cone-shaped shell of the cone snail is often richly coloured with intricate patterns. For example all cone snail uses a harpoon-like proboscis to spear and inject poison into their prey. As a result the poison leaves the prey (worms, fish or molluscs) paralysed and depending on the species of snail can even be hazardous to humans.

Giant clam
The giant clams can grow up to very large sizes (up to 120 cm across) and live for over 100 years. They have thick shells with a wavy edge and even when closed, part of their mantle is visible. Their mantle can be brownish yellow to iridescent blue of green. However, although giant clams are filter feeders they also get supplemental nourishment from the symbiotic algae that live in their mantle.

Cowrie snails
The shell of the cowrie snail is smooth and egg-shaped. It comes with a flat bottom that has a long thin opening. Above all there are many different species and they have a wide range of sizes and colours. This carnivorous snail usually hides during the day and emerges at night to hunt. For instance spot them on the reef or a sandy bottom.  The cowrie snail will often extend the mantle. For example, this mantle can completely cover the shell.

In conclusion, we hope you enjoyed this long read about marine life on Malapascua. If you have any questions about marine life on Malapascua, please contact us.