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What Animals Live in the Coral Reefs of Kauai

a flock of seagulls are swimming in a body of water

The coral reef is one of many incredible wonders of the ocean. Around the Hawaiian islands, clear blue waters allow many snorkelers to see the beautiful coral reefs stretching around the island.

The coral reefs protect Hawaii’s picturesque shores from waves and floods that would otherwise harm the stunning beaches. The coral reef also serves as a habitat for a variety of tropical fish, sea turtles, dolphins, and many other marine creatures.

Check out our guide to the creatures of the coral reef below!

Tropical Fish in Kauai Coral Reefs

This is probably the first animal you thought of when imagining the coral reef and it’s true! The coral reef is teeming with hundreds of brightly colored tropical fish. Here are some of our favorite fish you may spot swimming around the coral reef:


In 1985, the Humuhumunukunukuapua’a was voted as the Official Hawaii State Fish by popular vote. The Humuhumunukunukuapua’a is yellow, blue, and black colored. These are very shy fish yet are also territorial, so do not disturb them.

Surgeonfish (Tangs)

Tangs are a species of surgeonfish and are shaped like thin ovals. Yellow Tang is the most common type of tang you’ll find hanging around the coral reef and have a vibrant lemon yellow color, hence the name. They love to swim in large schools of tang and are a very beautiful sight to see while snorkeling.


Angelfish are vibrant orange and blue fish with a back-wandings spine. They are very shy and stay close to the coral for safety.


Butterflyfish almost exclusively live around coral reefs, seagrass, and lagoons in the ocean. You’ll likely never see a butterfly fish in a lake, river, or pond unless someone dumped it there. Butterflyfish tend to have a round shape and can be several colors depending on the specific species. Some can even change their colors to camouflage with the coral reef.

Butterflyfish are omnivorous, feeding on plankton and coral. Their favorite food is plankton by far. There are hundreds of types of butterflyfish, but the most common you’ll find in Hawaii are:

  • Citron Butterflyfish
  • Oval Butterflyfish
  • Raccoon Butterflyfish
  • Longnose Butterflyfish
  • Four Spot Butterflyfish
  • Reticulated Butterflyfish
  • Chevron Butterflyfish
  • Thompson’s Butterflyfish
  • Tinker’s Butterflyfish
  • Milletseed Butterflyfish
  • Bluestriped Butterflyfish
  • Multiband Butterflyfish
  • Orangemargin Butterflyfish
  • Pennant Butterflyfish

Sea Urchins

Sea urchins look like spiny little dots but lo and behold, these are definitely alive. Their spikes provide a strong defense and hospitalization may be required to remove them, so if you see sea urchins, do not touch them.


Parrotfish are a type of wrasse. There are over 90 species of parrotfish in the world and the most beautiful ones, in our opinion, live here in Hawaii. Parrotfish are armed with a strong beak they use to bite chunks of coral so they can eat the algae off of it.

You’ll also find hundreds of other tropical fish around the coral reefs!

Sea Turtles

In the coral reef, you’ll find the Hawaiian green sea turtle! While there are other turtle species around the islands, the Hawaiian green sea turtle is the most common to spot around the coral reef and is an exciting sight. Many people even consider the green sea turtle to be a symbol of the Hawaiian Islands.

Sea Cucumbers

Sea cucumbers look like speckled, fun-colored blobs. They often like to attach themselves to the edge of the coral reef or tide pools so they can feed on small crustaceans.

Reef Sharks

It’s pretty rare for humans to see a shark. Whitetip reef sharks sometimes swim around Kauai’s coral reefs, hunting for food. As far as sharks go, white tip reef sharks are rather small and don’t grow to be much larger than 7 feet long.

Gray reef sharks also spend time around the coral reef, as you can guess by the name. Gray reef sharks grow to be eight feet in length and will attack if threatened. If you see one, slowly swim backward and try not to draw attention to yourself.

Moray Eels & Conger Eels

Moray eels love to call the coral reef home and often nest inside of holes and crevices in the reef. You must not get too close to the reef, otherwise, a moray eel may get territorial and attack. There are two common moray eels you may see around Kauai’s coral reef, including the Whitemouth Moray Eel and the Snowflake Moray Eel.

Conger eels are a lot more laid back than moray eels. They also tend to hang out near the coral reef because they love to eat crustaceans.


You may see an octopus around the coral reefs in Kauai. But due to their camouflage, you’ll likely swim by a few! The coral reef is home to the Hawaiian Day Octopus and the White Striped Octopus.

Explore The Coral Reef With Kauai Sea Tours

Kauai offers snorkeling destinations like no other and our team at Kauai Sea Tours can take you there. Our captains know the best snorkeling spots around Kauai and will select the perfect location for the tour and weather.

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