What Different Kind of Marine Life Can you See While Snorkeling?

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Expert: Cameron – I have been active in all water-based adventures since 2014. While working overseas I obtained my advanced PADI diving certificate and when needing to fly within the day I go snorkeling instead. Snorkeling in particular has been a hobby of mine since I was a child. At the time of writing I have snorkeled in an expansion of waters and have seen many marine creatures.

The Thrill of Snorkeling and Exploring Underwater Snorkeling is a captivating activity that allows individuals to immerse themselves in the underwater world and witness the wonders of marine life firsthand.

It offers a unique opportunity to connect with nature and experience the thrill of exploring the ocean’s depths.

Diversity and Beauty of Marine Life The world’s oceans are teeming with an incredible diversity of marine life.

From vibrant coral reefs to majestic sea creatures, the underwater realm is a treasure trove of beauty and fascination.

Snorkeling provides a window into this diverse ecosystem, offering glimpses of the incredible creatures that inhabit the seas.

But what kind of animals can we see while snorkeling?

While snorkeling, you can witness an array of captivating marine life including colorful fish like clownfish and parrotfish, vibrant coral reefs teeming with life, sea turtles gliding by, playful dolphins, majestic rays, and even elusive creatures like octopuses and sharks; additionally, you’ll encounter a variety of beautiful marine plants.

Where can you find these creatures and what should you expect them to look like?

Marine Life in Tropical Waters

Colorful Coral Reefs and their Inhabitants

Tropical waters are renowned for their breathtaking coral reefs, which are home to a myriad of marine species.

Snorkelers in these regions can witness the mesmerizing colors and intricate formations of coral, as well as encounter a wide array of reef-dwelling organisms.

Coral reefs are incredibly important to the oceanic ecosystem and will house most of the wildlife you will be looking for.

Below are coral categories and more information on coral can be found here.

Fringing Reefs

This is the most common type of reef and the one you will likely be viewing on your snorkel trip.

They grow from the coastline and are separated from the shore by narrow, shallow lagoons.

Barrier Reefs

These reefs are parallel the coastline but are separated by deeper, wider lagoons.

At their shallow points they can form a barrier to navigation hence the name.


These are patches usually found in the middle of the sea.

They usually form when islands surrounded by fringing reefs sink into the sea or the sea level rises around them.

Patch Reefs

These are isolated reefs that grow up from the open bottom of the island platform or continental shelf.

They usually occur between fringing reefs and barrier reefs and vary greatly in size, as they rarely reach the surface of the water.

You can find these reefs from local conservation groups that make attempts to grow back coral in a region that may have died off.

Tropical Fish Species and their Behaviors

Tropical waters boast an abundance of fish species, each with its unique characteristics and behaviors.

Snorkelers may come across schools of colorful fish darting through the water, engaging in fascinating courtship displays, or exhibiting various feeding strategies.

Sea Turtles

Sea Turtle Philippines

Majestic ocean wanderers, the sea turtle is one of the most iconic marine creatures encountered while snorkeling in tropical waters is the sea turtle.

These ancient creatures captivate snorkelers with their graceful movements and gentle demeanor.

Observing sea turtles in their natural habitat is a truly memorable experience.

I have witnessed and swam with sea turtles in many parts of the globe and every instance is mesmerizing.

It is singly the most important marine life for any trip I go on, and once I see it I consider every snorkeling session a wonderous success!

Although tempting, do not disturb these reptiles as they are further conservation efforts to keep them alive for future generations.

Rays and Skates

Manta Ray

Graceful flatfish, snorkelers in tropical waters may have the privilege of encountering rays and skates gliding effortlessly along the ocean floor.

These flat-bodied creatures showcase their elegance as they gracefully swim through the water, showcasing their unique adaptations.

These creatures, while not intentionally predatory to humans, absolutely need to be admired from a distance due to their barbed tail they use for defense.

If Stung by Ray

  • Soak stingray stings in hot (but not scalding) water until the pain diminishes.
  • Wash and bandage.
  • For stingray stings, apply pressure to stop the bleeding. If necessary, and you are trained to do so, perform CPR.
  • If an allergic or life-threatening reaction is observed, call 911 or your local emergency number immediately.

More information on Ray stings can be found on Emergency Physicians website.

Marine Life in Temperate Waters

Temperate waters can become frigid over time.

Check out this article to see what gear your need to snorkel anywhere in the world!

Kelp Forests

Temperate waters are often adorned with majestic kelp forests, creating a habitat for an array of marine life.

Snorkelers exploring these environments can marvel at the towering kelp plants and encounter diverse species such as fish, sea urchins, and crustaceans.

Cold-Water Fish and Invertebrates

Guam Octopus

In temperate waters, snorkelers can encounter an assortment of cold-water fish and invertebrates.

From colorful rockfish to elusive octopuses, these creatures have adapted to the cooler temperatures and offer a glimpse into the unique ecosystems of these regions.

Above is a baby octopus I found in Guam during the cooler season; they were living in a rusty beer can that I found and was throwing away.

Harbor Seals and Sea Lions

Harbor Seal Pup on Beach

Playful Swimmers Snorkeling in temperate waters may also present the opportunity to interact with harbor seals and sea lions.

These charismatic marine mammals are known for their playful nature, and snorkelers may witness their acrobatic displays and curious interactions.

However, you may just witness their snoozing nature, since every time I have encountered these beautiful mammals they are catching up on their sleep and warming themselves in the sun.

Marine Life in Coral Reefs

Coral Polyps

Coral Polyps

Builders of Underwater Cities Coral reefs are bustling underwater cities, and their building blocks are coral polyps.

These tiny organisms create intricate structures that provide shelter and a habitat for countless marine species.

Clownfish and their Symbiotic Relationships

Clown Fish Group

Among the fascinating inhabitants of coral reefs are clownfish.

These are probably the most recognizable fish you will encounter because of ‘Finding Nemo.’

These small, brightly colored fish form symbiotic relationships with sea anemones, finding refuge within their stinging tentacles while offering protection and food in return.

These little guys can be rambunctious as well, I found a mother darting at me protecting her newly hatched babies in some anemone.


Parrot Fish Snorkeling

Guardians of Coral Reefs Parrotfish play a crucial role in maintaining the health of coral reefs.

They can be found with the most mesmerizing color formations on their scales.

With their powerful beaks, they graze on algae that can smother corals, helping to keep the ecosystem in balance.

These guys will be scattered about and will let you follow fairly close to them at times.


Surgeon Fish

Vibrant Reef Grazers Surgeonfish, with their striking colors and sharp spines, are key herbivores on coral reefs.

While these are commonly recognized with their deep blue color and yellow pin stripe, they can also be found in grey and other variations such as yellow!

Snorkelers may observe them delicately grazing on algae-covered surfaces, contributing to the overall health and vitality of the reef.

Marine Life in Open Ocean

Dolphins and Whales

Dolphin while Snorkeling

Acrobats of the Sea Venturing into the open ocean can lead to breathtaking encounters with dolphins and whales.

These intelligent and majestic creatures showcase their acrobatic abilities, leaping out of the water and providing unforgettable moments for snorkelers.

Oceanic Sharks and their Mysterious Ways

While snorkeling in open ocean waters, snorkelers may come across oceanic sharks.

These apex predators inspire awe and fascination, representing an integral part of the marine ecosystem.

Be mindful of these creatures and leave the waters if you are experiencing them without a proper tour guide.

Whale Shark while Snorkeling

During my trip to the Philippines I was able to snorkel with whale sharks (photo above).

Definitely a different type of animal, but absolutely breathtaking in their size and stature.


Ethereal Drifters Floating gracefully in the open ocean, jellyfish create a mesmerizing spectacle.

Snorkelers can admire their translucent bodies and observe their pulsating movements as they drift through the water.

If Stung by Jellyfish

  • Carefully remove any tentacles or stingers still on the body. Make sure to cover your hand or use a tool — do not directly touch the tentacles or you will be injured.
  • Soak jellyfish stings in salt water or vinegar (fresh water will increase pain and may release more of the toxin).

More info can be found at Emergency Physicians website.

Marine Life in Rocky Shorelines

Intertidal Zone

A Unique Habitat Rocky shorelines provide a diverse and dynamic habitat known as the intertidal zone.

Snorkelers exploring these areas can encounter a range of organisms adapted to withstand the constant changes in tides and wave action.

Crustaceans and their Adaptations

Underwater Crustation while Snorkeling

Snorkelers exploring rocky shorelines may encounter an array of fascinating crustaceans.

From scuttling crabs to colorful barnacles, these creatures have evolved unique adaptations to thrive in this challenging environment.

Sea Anemones and their Intriguing Partnerships

Among the captivating inhabitants of rocky shorelines are sea anemones.

These delicate creatures form symbiotic relationships with various organisms, including anemonefish and hermit crabs, showcasing the interconnectedness of marine life.

Marine Life in Estuaries and Mangroves

Mangrove Forests

Vital Coastal Ecosystems Estuaries and mangrove forests serve as vital coastal ecosystems, offering a home to numerous marine species.

Snorkeling in these areas provides an opportunity to appreciate the intricate root systems and observe the unique adaptations of mangrove-dwelling organisms.

Estuarine Fish and their Life Cycles

Estuaries are nurseries for many fish species, and snorkelers may witness fish in different stages of their life cycles.

From tiny fry seeking shelter to adult fish navigating the brackish waters, estuaries offer a glimpse into the circle of life.

Mangrove Crabs and their Ecological Roles

Mangrove crabs play a significant role in the mangrove ecosystem, contributing to nutrient cycling and burrowing activities that shape the landscape.

Snorkelers may catch glimpses of these fascinating crustaceans as they scuttle along the muddy substrate.

Marine Life Conservation and Responsible Snorkeling

To learn about other simple ways to promote environmental awareness while snorkeling click here!

Threats to Marine Life and Ecosystems

Understanding the threats facing marine life is crucial for snorkelers to become advocates for conservation.

Overfishing, habitat destruction, pollution, and climate change are among the primary challenges that must be addressed.

Sustainable Snorkeling Practices

Snorkelers can minimize their impact on marine ecosystems by practicing sustainable snorkeling techniques.

Respecting marine life, avoiding contact with fragile organisms, and properly disposing of waste are essential considerations.

Supporting Marine Conservation Organizations

Snorkelers can actively contribute to marine conservation efforts by supporting organizations dedicated to preserving marine habitats, conducting research, and raising awareness about the importance of marine biodiversity.


A Kaleidoscope of Marine Life Awaits Snorkelers Snorkeling opens the door to a world of wonder and discovery beneath the waves.

From tropical reefs to temperate waters, from rocky shorelines to open ocean encounters, each snorkeling adventure offers the opportunity to witness a kaleidoscope of marine life.

By embracing responsible snorkeling practices and advocating for conservation, we can ensure that future generations can continue to marvel at the beauty and diversity of the underwater world.

So grab your snorkel gear, dive in, and let the magic unfold!

[Sources and References]

“Types of Coral Reefs.” Coral Reef Alliance, 9 Sept. 2021, coral.org/en/coral-reefs-101/types-of-coral-reef-formations/#:~:text=Scientists%20generally%20agree%20on%20four,%2C%20atolls%2C%20and%20patch%20reefs.

“Jellyfish and Stingray Stings – Know When to Go to the ER.” – Know When to Go to the ER, www.emergencyphysicians.org/article/know-when-to-go/jellyfish-and-stingray-stings#:~:text=If%20stung%20by%20a%20jellyfish%20or%20stingray%3A&text=Soak%20stingray%20stings%20in%20hot,to%20do%20so%2C%20perform%20CPR. Accessed 20 June 2023.

[Image Attribution and Licensing]

#1 Image by Jermaine W
#2 Image by Kev
#3 Image by Егор Камелев
#4 Image by LaDameBucolique
#5 Image by Jeremy Wilder
#6 Image by JackieLou DL & M W
#7 Image by joakant
#8 Image by Domingod Trejo
#9 Image by macg