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Hawaiian Reef Fish

Updated on June 16, 2012

Hawaii's beautiful and rich ecosystem includes some of the most colorful and beautiful marine life the world has to offer. The miles of untouched reef produces life that can be found nowhere else in the world including a large list of fish indigenous to Hawaiian waters.

This article provides a list of the reef life that can only be found in Hawaii as well as in-depth descriptions of Hawaii's most common marine life.

Hawaiian Reef Close to Shore


Yellow Tang


Because Hawaii is not extremely developed on land, the ocean remains untouched in some areas. Due to the islands' shapes after years of uplift and erosion, it is common to see reef that survives very close to shore.

In the photo above, you can see the coral as it sits right up against the shoreline. Shallow reef fish and over 200 species of coral can be found in Hawaiian waters.

Below is a table of the most common species found in Hawaiian reef.

Hawaiian Reef Fish

(click column header to sort results)
Hawaiian Name  
Achilles Tang
Paku Ikui
Blue and Red
Bird Wrasse
Hinalea I'iwi
Blue and Red
Blue Boxfish
Blue Cravalle
Blue and Green
Blue Parrotfish
Bluespotted Grouper
Blue and Green
Bluestripped Snapper
Convict Tang
White and Black
Fantail Fliefish
O'ili Uwi'uwi
White and Black
Fourspot Butterfly
Lau Hau
Freckled Hawkfish
Pili Koa
Juvenile Yellow-Tail
Lemon Butterfly
Lau Wiliwili
White and Brown
Longnose Butterfly
Lau Wiliwili Nukunuku'oi'oi
Moorish Idol
Kihi Kihi
Yellow and Black
Blue and White
Orange-spined Tang
Ornate Butterfly
Orange and Yellow
Ornate Wrasse
Pebble Collector Orchin
Pennant Fish
Kihi Kihi
Black, White and Yellow
Picasso Triggerfish
Blue, Red, Yellow and White
Pinktail Triggerfish
Blue and Pink
Raccoon Butterfly
Kikakapu Kapuhili
Yellow and Black
Rainbow Butterfly
Lau Hau
Yellow, Pink and Blue
Rainbow Cleaner Wrasse
Yellow, Pink and Blue
Rectangular Triggerfish
Black, Orange and Blue
Red Parrot Fish
Saddle Wrasse
Hinalea Lauwili
Blue and Yellow
Sargent Major
White and Black
Spiny Puffer
Oapu Kawa
Striped Sqirrelfish
Ala Ihi
Teardrop Butterfly
Kika Kapulauhau
White Spotted Puffer
Orange and Brown
White-Spotted Damsel
Whitespot Goatfish
Yellow Tang
Yellow-eyed Surgeonfish
Yellow-striped Goatfish
White and Yellow
Zebra Moray Eel
Black and White
Snowflake Moray Eel
Black and White
Slate Pencil Urchin
This table shows the fish commonly found in the shallow, Hawaiian reef.

Uhu (Parrot Fish)

Female Uhu
Female Uhu | Source


The uhu (Hawaiian parrotfish) is known for the vibrant colors of its scales. The female uhu is mostly a red/fuchsia color, while the male uhu is mostly blue.

The Hawaiian legend of Puniakaia and Uhumaka`ika`i is a story about a boy who catches a small, female uhu and raises it until it is very large, old and wise. When he releases it with his mother, the boy claims it to be the mother of the sea.

Uhu swim in pairs or alone. When they see another parrotfish, they swim alongside it. Hawaiians use a unique fishing method to catch this delicious fish. They put a fake uhu in their net and drag it through the water. Another uhu usually joins the made-made uhu and that is how they catch this colorful fish.

Zebra Moray Eel

Zebra Moray Eel
Zebra Moray Eel | Source

Moray Eels in Hawaii

Hawaiian eels are mostly made up of morays. The zebra moray eel is probably the most well-known in Hawaii as it is a common species found only in Hawaiian reef. Hawaiian waters are also home to snowflake eels and green moray eels.

Some species of Hawaiian eels have a symbiotic relationship with other fish including remoras that are known for cleaning sharks. The eel and the remora have a different type of relationship; the remora will chase the prey into the reef and the eels will chase it inside of the rocks to guide it out and right into the remora. This is the only case of a symbiotic relationship where two species hunt together.

Snowflake Moray Eel
Snowflake Moray Eel | Source

Slate Pencil Urchin (Wana)


Sea urchins are very common in Hawaii. The locals call them "wana" (pronounced "vah-nah") and try to avoid stepping on them. Sea urchins rest on coral and in the crevasses of rocks. While it is more common to see black wana, the slate pencil wana is indigenous to Hawaii and are much more beautiful.

When the wana dies, it leaves behind its spines, which turn a beautiful lavender color. When the spines touch each other, they make a pleasant chime. Handy locals collect them to make wind chimes.


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    • Natashalh profile image


      7 years ago from Hawaii

      I'm so glad I came across this. I've been writing hubs on great snorkeling spots on Oahu, but I'm not that great at remembering fish names. I'm about to link this from my hubs instead of the outside Hawaiian fish page I'd been linking!

    • brittanytodd profile imageAUTHOR

      Brittany Kennedy 

      7 years ago from Kailua-Kona, Hawaii

      DzyMsLizzy, mahalo (thank you) for your comments! What an interesting connection to Hawaii. My family has been there for six generations and I am moving back there next month. How nice it is to hear that you liked my hub. Thank you so much! I admire your work.

    • DzyMsLizzy profile image

      Liz Elias 

      7 years ago from Oakley, CA

      What great photos! Very interesting, indeed. I have a very tenuous connection to Hawaii--I've never been there, but that's where my parents met, during WWII (they were both from New England)!

      My mom studied the Hawaiian culture, learned the hula, and some of the language. From childhood, I always loved the way "Humuhumunukunukuapua'a" rolled off the tongue! I was pleased to see it included, and finally learn its English name translation. ;-)

      Thanks for sharing this delightful selection of fishes.

      Voted up, interesting, beautiful and shared.

    • brittanytodd profile imageAUTHOR

      Brittany Kennedy 

      7 years ago from Kailua-Kona, Hawaii

      Thank you so much, James!!! I can't wait to check out your writing. Have a wonderful day!

    • James Peters profile image

      James Timothy Peters 

      7 years ago from Hammond, Indiana

      This is soooo very cool. You're writing is fantastic and so are the photos.

      Right on.

      I envy you...


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