11 Beautiful Creatures You Can Spot on Australia's Great Barrier Reef

A colourful giant clam found on the Great Barrier Reef
A colourful giant clam found on the Great Barrier Reef | © Steven Dos Remedios / Flickr
Photo of Hayley Simpson
Writer11 May 2018

Located off the Queensland coast in Australia, the Great Barrier Reef is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It’s the world’s largest living organism, home to 1,500 fish species, six different marine turtles, 30 whale and dolphin species, and 400 types of coral. Here are just some of the beautiful creatures you can spot along the Great Barrier Reef.

Marine turtles

Six of the world’s seven marine turtle species are found on the Great Barrier Reef. This includes the green sea, loggerhead, hawksbill, flatback, olive ridley, and the rare leatherback turtle. They are predominantly found around the southern Great Barrier Reef. You can see loggerhead turtles and their hatchlings at the Mon Repos Turtle Centre in Bundaberg. Lady Elliot and Heron Islands are also known for their green sea turtle populations.

Green sea turtle swimming near Lady Elliot Island | © Michael Smith ITWP / Shutterstock


The movie, Finding Nemo made clownfish instantly famous and recognisable. There are 28 clown, or anemone fish, species found throughout the world. The term anemone fish relates to their relationship with sea anemones, which act as hosts and homes for clownfish. Although sea anemones have tentacles that can kill normal fish, it’s still debated how the clownfish survive and thrive in their unconventional home.

One of the fish spotted at Melbourne Aquarium | © Tchami / Flickr


Seahorses are interesting, albeit beautiful, creatures that can be spotted swimming on the Great Barrier Reef. However, sometimes it’s difficult to see them as they’re able to change colours and camouflage with their surroundings. Seahorses predominantly live in seagrass and seaweed instead of within coral, as certain coral can sting them.


Although they look beautiful and ethereal from afar, jellyfish are one animal you do not want to get close to along the Great Barrier Reef. There are more than 100 species spotted along the reef, including blue bottle, box, and the deadly irukandji jellyfish. Jellyfish season in Queensland runs from November to March.

Beautiful but lethal: box jellyfish | © Will Fisher / Flickr

Whale shark

Whale sharks are the world’s largest fish. Swimming and diving with whale sharks is a world-famous activity on the other side of the country, at Ningaloo Reef. But record numbers have been spotted on the Great Barrier Reef in recent years, which is a treat for both locals and visitors. The gentle giants have been spotted on the reef off Cairns and the Whitsundays.

Diving with whale sharks | © Tomas Kotouc / Shutterstock

Sea snakes

Although you might not think a snake slithering towards you on the mainland is beautiful, the way sea snakes swirl through the water is quite mesmerising. There are 14 sea snake species found on the Great Barrier Reef, including the olive sea snake and the banded sea krait. Although they are venomous, sea snakes are much less threatening to humans than their mainland counterparts.

Giant clam

There are over 10,000 mollusk species living in – and loving – the warm waters of the Great Barrier Reef. One of the most visible is the impressive giant clam. As the world’s largest mollusk, they can weigh over 200 kilograms. Giant clams are considered a vulnerable species, due to overharvesting for food, shells, and the aquarium trade. Unfortunately, their adductor muscle is seen as a delicacy in some cultures.

A colourful giant clam found on the Great Barrier Reef | © Steven Dos Remedios / Flickr

Bottlenose dolphin

Bottlenose dolphins are one of the most beautiful creatures found in waters around the world, including the Great Barrier Reef. Because they’re social animals, large groups of bottlenose dolphins can frequently be spotted playing around tour boats that head out to the reef daily from places such as Cairns, Port Douglas, Townsville, and Airlie Beach. Other dolphin species you might spot on the reef include spinner dolphins, and the threatened Irrawaddy and Indo-Pacific humpback dolphins.

Smiling bottlenose dolphin | © Eric Kilby / Flickr


Angelfish are known for their striking and colourful patterns. There are over 80 different angelfish species to see on the Great Barrier Reef, including emperor and bicolour angelfish, as well as rabbitfish. The emperor is known for its vertical blue and white stripes, while the bicolour angelfish is half yellow and half blue. Angelfish are closely related to butterfly fish, which are just as beautiful and colourful, too.

Humpback whale

From their winter home in Antarctic waters, whales migrate north towards the Great Barrier Reef and its warmer waters between June and October. This is when they usually mate and give birth. Besides the beautiful and majestic humpback whale, dwarf minke and pilot whales are also spotted during this whale-watching season. Humpback whales have been spotted getting close to snorkelers at Agincourt Reef, too.

A humpback whale baby | © Christopher Michel / Flickr

Maori wrasse

Maori wrasse are one of the world’s largest reef fish. They can reach over two metres in length, and can weigh up to 200 kilograms. The male Maori wrasse are blue and green, with a geometric pattern visible on their heads and body. The patterns resemble traditional Maori warrior facial markings, hence the name. Females are a bronze colour. Maori wrasse spend their nights sleeping in caves, which is why they’re frequently spotted around dive sites. They’re now a protected species as well.

Maori wrasse | © fugm10 / Flickr

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