Marine life

Christmas Island is surrounded by a narrow tropical reef, which supports a rich abundance of marine life, including hundreds of species of tropical fish, dolphins, whale sharks, manta rays and many varieties of unspoiled coral. Just beyond the reef is the Java Trench, the deepest point in the Indian Ocean. This creates spectacular drop-offs only 20 metres from the shore - scuba divers delight!

  • Reef waters

    In the shallow reef waters some 575 different species of fish live amongst the sand and the coral.

    • They include the strikingly-coloured butterfly fish, lionfish (pictured), territorial angel fish and parrot fish, which feed by scraping food from the surface of the coral. There are some very territorial fish including the trigger fish who guard their territory aggressively during breeding season.

      There are also a small number of green and hawksbill turtles that nest on Dolly and Greta beaches.

      Over 88 species of coral were collected during a survey in 1987. There is relatively low coral species diversity in the area because of the small size of the island and its isolation from coral larvae. There are some five species of clownfish sea anemones and many sponges, including endemic species and varieties.

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  • The open ocean

    There is no place to hide in the surface layers of the open ocean. The pelagic (open ocean) fish that live in this environment are fast swimmers and escape danger by bursts of speed. Many are schooling fish and find added safety by gathering together and swimming about in large numbers.

    • These species include tunas, wahoo, barracuda, rainbow runners, mackerel scad, sailfishes, marlin, swordfishes and trevallies. Some of the larger species that live in the Christmas Island waters include:

      • the manta ray - the largest of all rays, growing to over seven metres across and weighing over three tonnes. They feed on small fish and plankton. The large flaps on either side of the head are used to direct planktonic food into the mouth where it is sieved.
      • Spinner dolphins (frequently) and common dolphins (occasionally) are seen in inshore waters.
      • Whale sharks are often seen between November and March each year.
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  • Birds

    Christmas Island is the home to spectacular seabird rookeries. Around 80,000 seabirds nest here annually, with 23 breeding or resident species.

    download the Christmas Island birds app from the iTunes store.