Maui, a name that conjures images of lush landscapes, cascading waterfalls, and serene beaches, also hides a world heaving with color and life beneath its crystal-clear waters. This hidden world is a paradise for enthusiasts of tropical fish and snorkeling alike. In this post, we dive into the vibrant underwater realm of Maui, exploring the rich diversity of tropical fish that call these waters home and sharing tips on the best snorkeling spots to encounter these marine treasures.

The Tropical Fish of Maui

Maui’s waters are a sanctuary for a vast array of tropical fish, each species adding a splash of color to the underwater mosaic. From the nimble Moorish Idol, with its distinctive yellow, black, and white bands, to the tranquil Butterflyfish, known for their varied and colorful patterns, the variety is astounding. Not to forget the Humuhumunukunukuapua’a, Hawaii’s state fish, whose intricate name is as complex as its vibrant, geometric patterns.

One can also encounter the Parrotfish, a vital species for coral health, grazing on algae and keeping the reefs clean. Their brilliant colors and the sound of their beaks nibbling on coral make them a fascinating sight. Then there’s the Yellow Tang, a flash of bright yellow against the blue, easily spotted amidst the coral gardens.

Coral Reefs in Maui

List of Tropical Fish Commonly Found in the Waters around Maui

1. Yellow Tang – Recognizable by its bright yellow coloring. Yellow Tangs are primarily found in shallow, coral-rich areas of the ocean, where they swim both in the open water and among the reefs. They play a crucial role in the reef ecosystem by controlling algae growth, which, if left unchecked, can smother coral reefs, and hinder their ability to thrive.

2. Moorish Idol – Known for its distinctive black, white, and yellow bands and graceful movements. The Moorish Idol plays a vital role in its ecosystem, contributing to the health of coral reefs by controlling sponge populations and serving as a key species for reef biodiversity. Its unique appearance and behavior continue to fascinate scientists, divers, and marine hobbyists around the world.

3. Humuhumunukunukuapua’a or Hawaiian Triggerfish – The state fish of Hawaii, famous for its long name and unique appearance. Its coloration is a vivid tapestry of geometric patterns, primarily in a mix of blue, yellow, black, and white. This fish holds a special place in the hearts of locals and its cultural significance and is often featured in stories and chants. Its name, which roughly translates to “the fish that grunts like a pig,” refers to the sound it makes when threatened or taken out of the water, adding to its distinctive character.

4. Butterflyfish – There are several species, each with its own colorful and intricate patterns.

  • Ornate Butterflyfish – often hailed as one of the most beautiful fish in Hawaiian waters, is easily identified by its six orange diagonal stripes adorning each side of its body. Typically reaching lengths of five to six inches, though some may grow as large as eight inches, this fish is distinguished by its striking black and yellow bars across its face and a lustrous gray patch on its forehead.
  • Threadfin Butterflyfish – a multicolor fish that can be found in the outer reefs of Maui. They often seek refuge behind rocks and coral formations. In Hawaii, the Threadfin is marked by a unique black “eyespot” on its dorsal fin, a feature that is absent in Threadfins originating from the Red Sea.
  • Longnose Butterflyfish – a striking and elegant species found in the waters around Maui and throughout the Indo-Pacific region. This fish is known for its distinctive appearance, marked by a bright yellow body and a long, pointed snout, which gives it its name. It’s a fascinating species both for casual snorkelers and avid marine biologists alike, due to its unique feeding habits and role in the ecosystem.
  • Raccoon Butterflyfish – gets its name from the distinctive black patches around its eyes, reminiscent of a terrestrial raccoon’s mask. This species is nocturnal, often seen moving in pairs or small schools. Sporting a yellowish-orange hue, the Raccoon Butterflyfish features an upper half that is noticeably darker than its lower half, adding to its unique appearance.
  • Teardrop Butterflyfish – Referred to as the “One Spot Butterfly,” this fish is distinguished by a black teardrop and streak located on the upper right side of its body. The Teardrop Butterflyfish primarily exhibits a white body that gradually shifts to yellow towards its upper section. Additionally, a prominent black bar is situated just behind the eyes, accentuating its striking appearance and making it a favorite when snorkeling Maui.
  • Bluestripe Butterflyfish – gravitate towards sandy patches nestled among boulders and coral on the ocean’s smooth floor. When snorkeling in Hawaii, these fish are commonly encountered in shallow reefs and close to rocky shorelines. Unique to the Hawaiian Islands, the Bluestripe Butterflyfish is a rare find. New findings reveal that Bluestripes inhabit depths of up to 600 feet, much deeper than previously thought. With their eight vibrant blue stripes crossing their body diagonally, they stand out as some of the most easily recognized inhabitants of the reef.
  • Fourspot Butterflyfish – a colorful marine species that can be found in the waters around Maui and throughout the Indo-Pacific region. This species is especially recognized for its distinctive appearance, marked by four black spots from which it derives its name. Snorkelers and divers in Maui’s waters have a good chance of spotting these colorful fish among the coral reefs. Their distinct spots and vibrant colors make them a delightful sight for those exploring Maui’s underwater ecosystems.
  • Oval Butterflyfish – showcases a dazzling array of colors, as suggested by its name. The body is predominantly white or silver, accented with a multitude of horizontal stripes that range in color from yellow to orange and sometimes even a subtle pink. A distinctive characteristic is the dark band that runs through the eye, which is a common trait among butterflyfish species, serving as a protective measure against predators by disguising the eye. The dorsal and anal fins of the Rainbow Butterflyfish are edged in bright yellow, adding to its colorful display.
  • Milletseed Butterflyfish – This stunning yellow fish is adorned with tiny black specks along its sides, which merge into vertical stripes. A prominent black bar veils its eyes, and there’s a notable black patch at the junction where its body meets the tail fin. For those eager to catch a glimpse of the Milletseed Butterflyfish in Maui, the best spots are areas with abundant coral reefs.

5. Parrotfish – known for their vibrant colors, which can range from blues, greens, and yellows to more subdued tones, depending on the species and their life stage. Their bodies are robust and oval-shaped, and their unique beaks are formed by fused teeth which they use to scrape algae from coral and rocks. This feeding behavior is crucial for the health of coral reefs, as it prevents algae from overgrowing and smothering the coral.

6. Bluefin Trevally – Notable for its electric blue fins and aggressive hunting behavior. The clear waters and healthy coral reefs of Maui are ideal for snorkeling and diving, where Bluefin Trevally can often be seen hunting or cruising along the reef edges. Some of the best places to spot them include Molokini Crater and along the west coast of Maui.

7. Lagoon Triggerfish – Looks similar to the Hawaii state fish, making it one of the more recognizable species. Known for its territorial behavior, especially during the mating season when it aggressively guards its eggs. During this time, both males and females alternate in safeguarding their offspring.

8. Angelfish – With their elegant shape and vibrant colors, they are a favorite among snorkelers. Angelfish are known for their flat, round bodies and elongated, triangular dorsal fins, giving them a distinct silhouette. Maui offers many excellent snorkeling and diving spots where angelfish can be observed in their natural habitats. Popular locations include Molokini Crater, Honolua Bay, and the coral reefs along the west and south coasts of the island.

9. Hawaiian Cleaner Wrasse – These fish are small and provide a ‘cleaning’ service by removing parasites from other fish. They typically display a striking pattern of bold, longitudinal stripes, with a black stripe running through the middle of their bodies, flanked by bright blue above and below. The work of Hawaiian Cleaner Wrasses is vital for controlling parasite populations on the reef and helps in the overall health management of reef fish.

10. Sergeant Major – Named after the stripes of a military sergeant major, they have a deep, laterally compressed body that is silver in color, with five vertical black bars running across their sides. Sergeant Majors are a popular sight among divers and snorkelers due to their striking appearance and the large schools they often form.

11. Convict Tang – Named for its striking black and white stripes that resemble a classic prisoner’s uniform, are relatively small compared to some of their tang relatives, usually growing to about 6 inches in length. They are known to form large schools, especially when feeding, which offers protection from predators.

12. Boxfish – have a hard, external shell made of hexagonal plate-like scales, which form a rigid, box-like carapace around their body. This armor protects from predators, but it limits their swimming speed and agility. Despite this, they are adept at maneuvering through the coral reefs using their fins. Boxfish come in various colors and patterns, including bright yellows, blues, and greens, often with spots or stripes that add to their visual appeal. Their slow swimming style and curious nature often make them willing subjects for underwater photography for visitors who are snorkeling Maui.

13. Hawaiian Green Sea Turtle – Not a fish, but frequent and beloved sightings while snorkeling in Maui’s waters and have been swimming the oceans for over 100 million years. In Hawaiian culture, the Honu is a symbol of wisdom, good luck, and longevity. They are revered in folklore and considered aumakua (guardian spirits) by some families. The respect for these creatures is deeply ingrained in local tradition and emphasizes the importance of living in harmony with nature.


Snorkeling Maui: Where to Snorkel in Maui

Maui is not just a harbor for tropical fish but also a top destination for snorkeling enthusiasts. “Snorkeling Maui” is not just an activity; it’s an experience, an opportunity to dip oneself into a world unlike any other. Here are some top spots for snorkeling in Maui, where the tropical fish are plenty, and the memories are unforgettable.

Molokini Crater

This partially submerged volcanic crater is a marine preserve and offers some of the clearest waters in Hawaii, with visibility up to 150 feet on a good day. Home to over 250 species of fish, it’s a snorkeler’s paradise.

Molokini’s unique geographical structure also plays a significant role in its appeal. The crescent shape of the crater provides shelter from waves and currents, creating a relatively calm and safe environment for marine life and offering an ideal condition for snorkeling and diving activities. This natural barrier allows even novice snorkelers to explore its wonders with ease.

Black Rock

Located at the north end of Ka’anapali Beach, Black Rock is known for its calm waters and abundant marine life, making it perfect for beginners and experienced snorkelers alike. The marine ecosystem around Black Rock is thriving, offering snorkelers the chance to observe a wide array of aquatic species in their natural habitat including many tropical fish and the Hawaiian green sea turtle.

Beyond its rich marine life, Black Rock is steeped in Hawaiian culture and history. According to local legend, it is considered a leina-a-ka’uhane, or a “soul’s leap,” where spirits of the deceased jump off into the afterlife. This cultural significance adds an enriching layer to the experience of visiting Black Rock, blending the allure of natural beauty with the depth of Hawaiian traditions.

Honolua Bay

A Marine Life Conservation District, Honolua Bay’s clear, calm waters are packed with tropical fish and healthy coral formations. The bay is a natural wonder that offers a serene snorkeling Maui experience.

The calm conditions within the bay provide a safe environment for snorkelers of all skill levels. Beginners can comfortably explore the shallower areas near the shore, while more experienced adventurers can venture further out to discover the deeper secrets of the bay’s marine life. The sheltered nature of the bay ensures that the waters remain relatively undisturbed by strong currents, offering a peaceful setting that encourages exploration.

Turtle Town

As the name suggests, this area is famous for its Hawaiian green sea turtle population but is also home to a variety of tropical fish. The calm, clear waters make it an excellent spot for families to snorkel Maui.

The significance of Turtle Town Maui extends beyond its recreational value; it serves as a critical habitat for the Hawaiian Green Sea Turtle. These turtles, once endangered, have seen their populations recover due to concerted conservation efforts. Turtle Town Maui offers a living classroom where visitors can learn about the importance of marine conservation while observing these majestic creatures in their natural habitat.

The combination of accessible, family-friendly snorkeling conditions, the chance to observe sea turtles up close, and the abundance of tropical fish makes Turtle Town a must-visit destination for anyone seeking to experience the natural beauty of Hawaii’s marine ecosystems.

Molokini Crater
Honolua Bay
Hawaiian Green Sea Turtle

Maui Snorkeling Boat Tours

Ready to see Maui’s tropical fish for yourself? Join Maui Snorkeling Boat Tours for your snorkeling Maui adventure! Set off on an adventure with Maui Snorkeling, your gateway to all-inclusive tours in Maui and the iconic Molokini Crater. Envision snorkeling in clear waters, surrounded by Hawaiian green sea turtles and tropical fish, and exploring vibrant coral reefs. Our tours ensure a one-of-a-kind snorkeling experience, offered in both Morning and Afternoon packages throughout the year.

Savor meals, enjoy snacks, and drink coffee, tea, juices, and soft drinks on board. We equip you with quality snorkeling gear—snorkels, fins, optical masks, and flotation belts. Added fun includes boogie boards, a 25-foot water slide, and swimming noodles. Our tours, packed with activities, include a 5-hour trip to Molokini Crater and a second site (Turtle Town or Coral Gardens), and a 3-hour afternoon trip to Molokini Crater, weather permitting. We also offer Private & Group Charters for up to 67 passengers.

Snorkeling Maui!

Join a Maui Snorkeling Boat Tour and ride the slide into the crystal-clear waters and see the colorful tropical fish of Maui!

Tips for Snorkeling with Tropical Fish in Maui

Respect the Ocean: Always remember that you are a visitor in the marine environment. Do not touch or step on the coral or harass the wildlife. Touching or stepping on coral can cause significant damage to these slow-growing structures. Corals are living organisms, not rocks, and their fragile polyps can be killed by direct contact, which not only harms the individual coral but can also destabilize the entire reef ecosystem dependent on it. Similarly, disturbing wildlife, whether by chasing, touching, or feeding, can stress or harm marine animals, alter their natural behaviors, and disrupt their feeding and breeding patterns.

Safety First: Prioritizing safety is paramount when engaging in any aquatic activities, especially snorkeling, which, while exhilarating, comes with its own set of risks. The “Safety First” principle encompasses several key guidelines designed to ensure that your snorkeling experience is not only enjoyable but also secure from potential hazards.

Snorkel with a Buddy: Venturing into the ocean should never be a solitary endeavor. Snorkeling with a companion is not just about enhancing the experience through shared memories; it’s a critical safety measure.

Monitor Ocean Conditions: The ocean is a dynamic environment, with conditions that can change rapidly. Before entering the water, it’s essential to observe the current, tide, and weather conditions. Strong currents and high waves can pose significant risks to snorkelers, potentially leading to exhaustion or disorientation. WHEN IN DOUBT, DON’T GO OUT!

Heed Local Advice: Locals, including lifeguards, tour operators, and experienced snorkelers, possess invaluable knowledge about the specific snorkeling site. They can provide insights into areas to avoid, times of day when snorkeling is safest, and even point out locations where you’re most likely to encounter marine life.

Preserve the Beauty: Use reef-safe sunscreen to protect the marine life and keep the waters pristine for future generations. Traditional sunscreens contain chemicals like oxybenzone and octinoxate, which have been shown to harm coral reefs and marine life. These substances can accelerate coral bleaching, a stress response that weakens corals and reduces their ability to reproduce, ultimately threatening the overall health of the reef ecosystem.

By opting for reef-safe sunscreens, which are formulated without these harmful chemicals, snorkelers, and beachgoers can protect themselves from the sun’s harmful rays without contributing to the degradation of marine habitats.



Maui offers an underwater spectacle that rivals the beauty of its terrestrial landscapes. Snorkeling in Maui is not just an activity; it’s an adventure into a vibrant world filled with an array of tropical fish that captivates and enchants. Whether you’re gliding through the waters of Molokini Crater or exploring the coral gardens of Turtle Town, the experience of snorkeling in Maui amidst its tropical fish is truly incomparable. So, book your Maui Snorkeling Boat Tour, and let’s dive into the rainbow beneath the waves!

Maui Snorkeling Boat Tour

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