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Biodiversity of Conch Reef

The area of Conch Reef is rich with biodiversity given its multitude of species.

Conch Reef Species

Blue Tang

Avg. Size: 5-10 inches Everyone’s favorite surgeonfish! Well sort of. A cousin of the Palettefish Surgeonfish, blue tangs are a playful and common sight on the Florida Key’s reefs. Just make sure to look for the yellow scalpel on the caudal peduncle.

Bluehead Wrasse

Avg. size: 2-3.5 inches These fish start their lives as yellow females and eventually some transition to male. The fish with the blue head is actually the male. The females all swim together in a group called a harem. There is normally one male for every 15-30 females. He not only protects and defends, but also mates with them 3 times a day. After a couple of months the male dies off and then the alpha female, the largest one, will change her hormones and turn into the new male! 

Spotlight Parrotfish 

Avg. Size 12-18 inches One of the many colorful species that contributes to the multitude of colors found on the reefs, stoplight parrotfish can be find in a variety of patterns and colors. The most common varieties are the terminal phase, which are normally an emerald green color, with three distinct yellow spots running along their body, and the initial phase, which are a red and white combination, with a honey comb pattern.


French Grunt

Avg. Size 12-18 inches You will find the French Grunt in an abundant group of grunts and snappers. The “fancy” French Grunt is distinguishable from its diagonal pattern, also known as bands, that adorns its side.

Sergeant Major 

Avg. Size 4-6 inches If you have ever find yourself in the upper or middle section of the water column, chances are you will spot this vibrant yellow fish with black bars. Like many damselfish species, they are mostly unafraid of divers and snorkelers and will often defend their small algae patches which they farm and tend to. 

Yellow Tail Snapper

Avg. Size 12-24 inches Often seen swimming above the reefs, this quick swimmer will catch your eye due to its brightly colored yellow tail. To make a positive idea, look for a yellow line which runs along it’s entire body length, from nose to tail.

Rock Beauty

Avg. Size 5-8 inches The adorable little damselfish gets its name from the large black spot that covers a large portion of their side. It gives the impressions that the fish is peeking out from behind a rock.


Avg. Size 6-10 inches The Porkfish is unable to oink, instead, acquiring its name from the two black bars found near the front of the fish. The bars look similar to grill marks, such as those on a BBQ’d piece of pork.

Spotfin Butterflyfish

Avg. Size 4-6 inches This particular species is distinguishable by a spot on its rear fin. Butterflyfish are one of the few fish that find a mate for life, so if you see one, make sure to keep our eye out for another

Bluestriped Grunt

Avg. Size 8-14 inches This abundant grunt species is recognizable by the blue lines that run across its face and body. Another helpful identifying mark is the darkened rear fin.

Grey Snapper

Avg. Size 10-18 inches An abundant snapper species, it can be found in large schools with other grunts and snappers. Staying true to its name, it is a less colorful fish species, mostly a grey color from snout to tail

Schoolmaster Snapper

Avg. Size 10-18 inches Distinguishable by its bright yellow fins, similar in color to that of a school bus, the Schoolmaster will be found in large groups of other grunts and snappers

Large Species

These species are visible out of the Aquarius window. 

Spotted Eagle Ray

Avg. Size 4-6 feet A majestic species, that seems to fly through the water rather than swim, is distinguishable by its blue back, white underside, and numerous spots that adorn its backside.

Bull Shark

Avg. Size 6-9 feet A cousin of the great white, the Bull shark is a beautiful shark species that enjoy cruising in warm shallow waters. Quick and agile swimmers, they have earned their status as an apex predator and are to be respected

Caribbean Reef Shark

Avg. Size 5-8 feet While very similar in design to other sharks, Caribbean Reef Sharks have a distinguishable extra rear tip on the second dorsal fin. While relatively passive, like any other sharks, it commands respect from both fish and human alike

Bar Jack

Avg. Size 8-24 inches This sleek and silvery fish has a pronounced fluorescent blue streak that runs from just behind its eye all the way to the bottom portion of its tail.

Bermuda Chub

Avg. Size 1-2 feet While a slightly chunkier fish, the Bermuda Chub is no less of a great swimmer. They will often be found in small schools and might check out a diver before swimming off quickly

Great Barracuda

Avg. Size 1.5-3 feet It is hard to mistake this sleek, silver fish’s toothy smile for any other species. A curios fish by nature, they are attracted to shiny objects such as watches and other jewelry. But no matter how close they may approach, they are quick to swim away when approached or lose interest

Nurse Shark

Avg. Size 5-9 feet Nurse shark prefer to stick close to the bottom, often times lying motionless on the sea floor to avoid detection. It has a distinct second dorsal fin.

Nassau Grouper

Avg. Size 12-24 inches Five dark bars across its face, and a black saddle on his caudal peduncle are the identifying marks of the shy Nassau Grouper. Is now protected in many regions throughout the Caribbean due to overharvesting.

Southern Stingray

Avg. Size 3-4 feet A master of camouflage, Southern Stingrays will often times be observed buried in the sand. Their darker coloration on their dorsal side helps them blend in, with only their eyes and spiracles visible.

Goliath Grouper

Avg. Size 4-6 feet The mighty Goliath Grouper can grow to be hundreds of pounds, dwarfing a diver. Even with their grand size, they are a shy species that will often meekly keep to themselves

If You Look Closely

Bicolor Damselfish

Avg. Size 2-3 inches One of the most common fish species found in the Tropical Western Atlantic, these little fellows are not aware of their small size. Like many damselfish species, they will actively protect their small algae patch that they farm and tend to.

Blue Chromis

Avg. Size 3-4 inches A vivid blue color, this fish is part of the rainbow of colors found on the reef.

Brown Chromis

Avg. Size 3-5.5 inches A very plain looking fish, look for the dark spot near the pectoral fins for a positive identification.

Neon Goby

Avg. size 1-1.5 inches While tiny in size, the Neon Goby plays a huge role on our reefs. In the Florida Keys reef system, they are the primary cleaner fish. They are responsible for cleaning parasites off of other fish. If you look closely at a head of brain coral, you may spot a few that have set up a cleaning station.

Yellowhead Jawfish

Avg. Size 2-3 You will often times spot this species of fish by just seeing their bright yellow head protruding from their burrow. This species of fish is also a mouthbrooder, with the male carrying and protecting the eggs in his mouth until it is time for them to hatch.

Roughhead Blenny

Avg. Size 0.75-1.25 inches Often times they are found residing on coral heads. It takes a keen eye to spot their black head and small protruding appendages over the eyes hiding on the reef.

Thanks to the Reef Environmental Education Foundation for providing data on the various species seen on Conch Reef and the Aquarius Underwater Habitat. More more information on what you might see at Conch Reef, check out the REEF Geographic Zone Report.

Book citation: Humann, Paul, and Ned DeLoach. Reef Fish Identification: Florida, Caribbean, Bahamas. Jacksonville, FL: New World Publications, 2002. Print.