Macro Life on the Great Barrier Reef

Well-known for clear water and schooling fish, the macro life on the Great Barrier Reef is amazing too. Here are a few of our favorite critters to look for.

When most people think about diving on the world’s most iconic reef, they imagine turtles and schooling barracuda. However, aside from the sweeping views and big animals, there’s lots of beautiful macro life on the Great Barrier Reef. These animals are mostly smaller than your hand or finger but pack more color and beauty into a tiny body than many of the largest ocean animals. Here are a few of the fantastic creatures to keep an eye out for on the Great Barrier Reef.

Lacy scorpionfish

Sitting tucked in among the coral-covered seafloor, these amazing animals rely on their intense camouflage to fool their prey into getting a little bit too close. It is then that they open wide and, with a lightning-quick strike, swallow their prey in one gulp. When trying to find these crazy critters, search the seafloor and keep an eye out for their psychedelic body pattern.

Longnose filefish

These tiny fish are a common site on shallow reef systems, with their long, iconic yellow nose and a multitude of yellow colorations speckling their green bodies. Though they’re common, when you view them up close, they’re a stunning fish to behold. And because you will nearly always find them in pairs, they make for fantastic macro photography subjects. A handy hint when photographing a filefish: let it come to you. Make chase and they soon disappear into the twisted coral world below.


When most people think of tropical North Queensland, they frequently forget about the dedicated macro photographer’s favorite subject — the nudibranch. However, look closely and you will see that these colorful sea slugs are ubiquitous across the region. The one pictured here is actively hunting other nudibranchs in the area, making for an exciting story to go with the image.


Almost every diver on the planet has a soft spot for anemonefish. These brightly colored fish make fantastic macro subjects — if you can get them framed in your camera, that is. One hint is to pick a camera spot on the anemone and just wait. Usually within a minute or two they will dart straight into your sights, so make sure you have pre-focused your camera, as they are a speedy little fish. Another advantage of photographing Nemo and his cousins is that the anemone tentacles often provide a great backdrop, adding great color and a sharp contrast between your subject and the rest of the image.

Crabs, crabs and more crabs

Finally, if you dip into the warm, tropical Australian waters at night, a plethora of crustacean life awaits you. Inside every hard coral you will almost certainly find a crab (or five) moving around and chowing down on some planktonic dinner. The difficulty will be finding a subject that isn’t partially obscured by hard-coral polyps. Unlike many of the other macro subjects described here, crabs are better than you at playing the waiting game. It therefore pays to keep looking and, instead of trying to take a photo of a certain individual, move on to the next crab. Eventually a cooperative crustacean will appear due purely to the enormous number of them that call the Great Barrier Reef home.

All photos courtesy of the author.

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