Many divers compile bucket lists filled with coveted sites and marine marvels, and often, we find ourselves going to particular sites in search of endemic species. These creatures are exclusive to specific geographic regions, adding to their allure, from the leafy sea dragon lurking in the south Australian waters to the splendid toadfish cloaked among the corals in Cozumel. So, whether you're planning a trip to a place for a particular animal, or you want to know if there are any endemic species to see for your next holiday read on for our favourite marine endemic species and where to find them…

A close up image of the splendid toadfish hiding under a rock overhang

Splendid toadfish, Cozumel, Mexico

Found in the waters around Cozumel in the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico, the splendid toadfish (sanopus splendidus) is quite a wonderful creature. Like other members of the toadfish family, its head is flat and broad with fleshy barbels, but it stands out from its brethren. Six of its eight fins (excluding the pelvic fins) have a bright yellow border, as does its mouth, and its main body is a dark purple decorated with black and white stripes - quite splendid. They live in shallow waters, usually found between 10-25m and close to the seabed (as a result, their eyes are on the top of their head as they don't need horizontal vision). The splendid toadfish are shy creatures and live under coral outcrops, so you must be patient to coax them out. The best time to spy on them is at night when they come out to hunt, especially around the outer part of low reefs such as Paradise Reef.

underwater photo of the seabed with garden eels poking their heads from the sand while fish swim above in clear blue waters

Heteroconger garden eel, West Papua

The Heteroconger garden eel is a relatively new discovery; it was only classified for the first time in 2010. These small eels (only measuring up to 60cm) live in burrows on the sea floor in the waters of West Papua. The 'garden' aspect of their names comes from their behaviour. They poke their heads out of their burrows while hiding most of their bodies. As they live in groups, it can appear at a glance that they are plants growing from the seafloor - hence the name 'garden eel'. These creatures are also known for being shy, so patience is key in getting close to them. Your best chance of seeing this living garden is to dive into the waters of Cederawasih Bay or into the white coral sand in the Kaimana region, getting close to the sand and waiting very still for the heads to begin to poke up.

Above photo of two marine iguanas swimming in white wash

Marine iguanas, the Galapagos

There are 27 endemic species to the Galapagos Archipelago but one of our favourites is the marine iguana (amblyrhynchus cristatus). It's the only sea-going lizard in the world and is truly a delight to see above and below the waves. There are 11 similar species found on different islands and those found on Isabela and Fernandina are the biggest. While they are black most of the year, each species varies in colour and the males have an interesting trait - they change colour when it comes to mating season (which is between January and March).

What makes these animals even more marvellous is how they have adapted to their island living. Marine iguanas feed on marine algae in shallow waters, using a snake-like swim motion and long claws to graze. As they feed in the water, they have evolved efficient salt glands to expel salt ingested to avoid becoming dehydrated. What's more, in times of food shortages, especially in the case of El Nino, they can shrink up to 20% to reduce the amount of food they need. Once food is no longer scarce, they can regain their size and return to their usual basking and munching activities.

And while you're in the Galapagos, you may want to check out the swanky blue-foot boobie bird. Through sexual selection in the evolution process, these birds have evolved to have bright blue feet. If you're lucky, you'll see the males showing off their fashionable feet during mating season to attract a female. Although they're not an endemic species, they're still a delight to see so we had to include them here.

underwater photo of a spotten wobbegong shark resting on corals in clear waters

Spotted wobbegong shark, Australia

Endemic to Australia, the Spotted Wobbegong (orectolobus maculatus) is a sub-species of wobbegong sharks, of which there are 12 currently recognised. These spotted sharks are found along the southern coastline of Australia, extending from southern Queensland to Western Australia, and live primarily in shallow waters that go to a maximum depth of 100m. One of their distinctive features is their intricate patterns of spots and blotches that cover their body and act as a form of camouflage, allowing them to blend into the rocky reefs that they enjoy lazing on. An amazing thing about the spotted wobbegong is that they're ovoviviparous. Unlike many shark species that lay eggs, the spotted wobbegong gives birth to live pups. What's more, they have one of the longest gestation periods among sharks, with pregnancies lasting up to 11 months before birthing between six and 11 pups.

Close up portrait image of a leafy seadragon with a blue background

Leafy sea dragon, Australia

We can't talk about the wonders in the Aussie waters without mentioning Sir David Attenborough's favourite fish (and one of our favourite endemic species), the leafy sea dragon. Masters of disguise, the leafy seadragon (Phycodurus eques) has leaf-like appendages that allow it to blend with its surroundings. These ornate protrusions cover their entire body, mimicking floating seaweed, aiding them in evading predators and ambushing prey. No teeth, no problem. The leafy sea dragon utilises their special snout to create a powerful suction force by rapidly inhaling water and drawing prey (typically small crustations) into their mouths. Like seahorses, it's the males who bear the pregnancy burden. Endemic to the southern and western coasts of Australia, they thrive in temperate waters, favouring rocky reefs, seaweed beds and seagrass meadows.

Ready to tick off some endemic species? Reach out to one of our team of expert divers to start planning your next tailor-made adventure. After all, we're nerds about the ocean and want to share our love of it with you.