In days long since passed, uncharted areas of maps were inscribed with the Latin phrase 'hic sunt dracones'- here be dragons. In modern times, that phrase would look out of place on any map, unless it was a map of Komodo and its neighbouring island of Rinca (pronounced Rin-cha). In this part of the world, there still be dragons! And while a trip to Komodo is not complete without a land tour to see the dragons, it's the area's swirling currents and exceptional marine life that draw in divers from all over the world. Komodo's dive sites are blessed with a fantastic range of underwater life, including fish of all shapes and colours, and here's our roundup of the best reef fish in Komodo...
There are currently six recognised species of ghostpipefish, and perhaps the least well-known is the striking Halimeda ghostpipefish. This cryptic species looks very similar to the macroalga Halimeda, from where it got its name, and next to which it prefers to hide. The Halimeda ghostpipefish's body is most often green in colour, but it can also be red (or other shades) depending on the colour of the algae or coral it's hiding in.
As relatives of the seahorse, ghostfish possess the same distinctive snouts. Halimeda ghostpipefish spend most of their time hanging motionless in the water column next to their favourite algae with their mouths facing downward, waiting. They feed on small crustaceans, and should one get too close, the ghostpipefish will suck it up with its long snout. Keep your eyes open for Halimeda algae in the shallows and there may be a Halimeda ghostpipefish lurking nearby too. Look a bit closer, and you may even spot a Halimeda crab hiding in the same spot too!
Reef Manta Ray
To be counted among the best reef fish in Komodo, you don't need to be small and cute, and you don't even have to resemble a fish! Reef manta rays (Mobula alfredi) are the second-largest ray species, falling a little shorter than their oceanic cousins (Mobula birostris), and are one of the biggest crowd-pleasers in Komodo.
Mantas are undoubtedly one of the best reef fish in Komodo, and Manta Alley is the dive site to head to for sightings. The mantas show up in their greatest numbers between September and April, with reef sharks, large schools of trevallies and huge wrasses also common on the dive site. While a manta sighting is always a special treat, seeing 30 or 40 of them in one place is truly epic!
Grey Reef Shark
Scientific research points to a healthy population of reef sharks as being a good indicator that the reef system itself is also in good health. From this, we can deduce that the reefs in Komodo are very healthy. You can see a few different species of reef sharks in Komodo, including both black- and white-tipped reef sharks, but it is the grey reef shark that is arguably the most impressive.
The grey reef shark is the biggest of the reef shark species that you will come across in Komodo. The northern dive sites are the favourite hangouts for these chunky reef sharks, with Castle or Crystal Rock being the top sites to watch them cruising effortlessly through the strong currents.
Rhinopias is a genus of fish that belongs to the family Scorpaenidae - the scorpionfishes. The six distinct species in this genus are only found in the Indian and Pacific oceans, and they are considered the Holy Grail of underwater photography. You can spot two species of Rhinopias in Komodo, the weedy scorpionfish (Rhinopias frondosa) and the paddle-flap scorpionfish (Rhinopias eschmeyeri), with dive sites like Wai Nilu and Sangean offering decent chances of spotting one.
Rhinopias tend to stick to one area and chances are that your guides will have a good idea of where to search for them. The paddle-flap and weedy scorpionfish are both among the best reef fish in Komodo for photographers, and their lack of movement makes them relatively easy photo subjects - you just have to find one first...
The undeniably cute pygmy seahorse is one of the Coral Triangle's favourite critters. There are several species of pygmy seahorses, many of which have only been discovered this century. The first recorded discovery of the pygmy seahorse came in 1969, when Georges Bargibant - a New Caledonian scientist - was collecting specimens of gorgonian fans. In recognition of his discovery, the first known species of pygmy was named after him and is known scientifically as Hippocampus bargibanti. The Bargibant's pygmy seahorse is the largest of all pygmy seahorses, growing up to around an inch in length, and you can find them in Komodo National Park.
Bargibant's pygmy seahorses are only found on gorgonian corals of the genus Muricella and live their whole adult life on a single coral. However, their small size and unbelievably good camouflage make them easy to miss, even when they are being pointed out! If your guide is pointing out a 'coral polyp,' maybe just check to see if that polyp has eyes - it may be a pygmy seahorse...
Everyone loves a frogfish, and with plenty of these cool critters hanging out in Komodo, they simply have to feature on its list of the best reef fish. In Komodo, you can find frogfish on a variety of dive sites, but the cooler southern sites may be your best bet. Wai Nilu and the dive sites within Horseshoe Bay prove particularly fruitful, but a chat with your guide will be the best way to maximise your chances of seeing one, or more...
Komodo is home to a few different species of frogfish; you may be able to encounter giant frogfish, clown frogfish, painted frogfish, and if you're lucky, even hairy frogfish!
It's called a cuttlefish, so it must be a fish! But no, cuttlefish are technically not fish. Yet flamboyant cuttlefish are special enough to bend the rules for. You'll be hard-pressed to find a funkier, more gaudily dressed denizen of the deep than these stylish cephalopods. Flamboyant cuttlefish look a little like they were designed by the same guy who designed John Travolta's shirts in Saturday Night Fever - a garish collage of purples, yellows and reds, made from slightly too much material. And they can strut just as well as Travolta too - their small cuttlebones give them little buoyancy, and they are the only species of cuttlefish to walk along the seabed rather than hover in midwater.
Siaba Besar is one of Komodo's top dive sites for macro critters and you have a decent chance of spotting a flamboyant cuttlefish out for a stroll there. As one of the most colourful creatures on the reef, they're staying on our list of the best reef fish in Komodo, even if they're not actually fish!
Crocodilefish (Cymbacephalus beauforti) belong to the family Platycephalidae, the flatheads, and are also sometimes called De Beaufort's flathead. They have perhaps the most photographed eyes of all fish, and if you have seen one, you'll understand why. Crocodilefish have intricate lappets (or decorative flaps), at the rear of their large eyes, which help to break up the outline of the black iris and improve their camouflage. It is these lappets that make the crocodilefish's eyes so photogenic and earn them a place on the list of the best reef fish in Komodo.
Crocodile fish can be relatively large and are commonly around a foot long. During the day, they can be seen resting on reef flats and are very approachable. If you move in slowly, they should hold their ground, allowing you to zoom in on those stunning eyes.