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Some marine life favorites & how to identify them

Scuba diving and snorkeling introduces you to a world full of weird and wonderful inhabitants. You’ll find a variety of creatures dazzling the reef, maybe one particular stands out and you can’t wait to surface and discuss what you saw with your dive buddies. After the dive you ask “wow guys did you see that yellow fish?!” … Ummmm… Perhaps it’s time to brush up on your identification skills.

The Manta Team are fortunate enough to dive the Mesoamerican reef every day. In this blog we share a small selection of marine life members we see every day whilst providing distinguishing features so you can identify them on your next dive or snorkel with us!


Characterized by disk-shaped bodies and small mouths.

Grey Angelfish (pictured below) are often seen swimming around the reef in pairs. Don't confuse them for the French Angelfish, which look very similar expect for strong yellow markings over the face and body.

Grey Angelfish


They congregate in large groups and are characterised by sloping heads/tapered bodies. French grunt: yellow stripes to a blue/white background Small mouth grunt: elongated body, yellow tail and 5-6 yellow stripes

White grunts: stripes only on head, checkered pattern of yellow & blueish silver

French, small-mouth and white grunts are all pictured here. Can you distinguish between these species?


If it's small and feisty, it could be a damsel! These guys have small oval-shaped bodies and are very energetic as they are often seen darting back and forth over the reef. Common damselfish in the area include Bicolor damselfish (pictured below - notice the body has two distinct colours) and Yellow Tail Damselfish (similar body shape, but with a bright yellow tail, a dark body plus brilliant blue spots.

A bicolour damselfish, protecting the reef

Sergeant Major

Yellow and blue with 5 black body bars. Typically swimming in large groups mid-water, making them a favorite for snorkelers. Fun fact: male sergeant majors turn dark blue/purple when courting or guarding eggs (they are also more aggressive during this time!)

Sergeant Majors

Next up we have some "odd-shaped swimmers"

The Smooth Trunkfish

Dark with white spots, honeycomb markings on the centre of body. You'll see them blowing water jets into the sand, searching for food using it's snout-like mouth.

The Smooth Trunkfish

Sharpnose Puffer

Despite it's small size (2-3.5 inches) this one manages to stand out from the crowd with bright blue markings from nose to tail which cover a darkish/gold body.

The Sharpnose Puffer

Turtle time

Commonly sighted turtles in the area are Hawksbill turtles and Green turtles - easily distinguishable once you have some tricks.

Hawksbill turtle

Green turtles

The easiest way to differentiate between the Hawksbill and Green turtle is to look closely at the mouth. Hawksbill turtles have a beak-like mouth, with the upper jaw extending further than the lower jaw. As you an see from the pictures above this is not the case with the Green turtle, who have a closed mouth and a smaller, rounder head.

Of course we see a wide variety of marine life on our dive and snorkel tours, most of which are not pictured here. Look out for our next marine life post for more.

Don't forget to leave a comment with your favourite!

For more marine life photos and up-to-date Manta info, please follow us on Instagram - @mantadiverscancun

Thanks for reading,

The Manta Team

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