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Kurt's coralblenny from northern Busuanga, Palawan, Philippines

Reef fishes from the Philippines

The title of this post reads like it will be a boring list of the 1700-plus species of tropical marine fishes that are found in the Philippines. Don’t worry; it is not about all of the reef fishes from the Philippines, but rather just some of the ones that can only be found in the Philippines (or found in immediately adjacent waters not politically associated with the Philippines). That list is an exponentially smaller subset of the master list of fishes, and for me, a more interesting one.It would be safe to say that less than 3% of the total numbers of marine fishes in the Philippines are classified as endemics (or have ranges that extend into immediately adjacent areas but are in waters not politically associated with the Philippines). The beauty for snorkelers or divers who lust for larger and larger ‘fish-lists’ (equivalent to the life-list that avid birdwatchers compile) is that several of these fishes are easily accessible and often fairly common if one knows where to look.

Both the twinspot coralblenny (Ecsenius bimaculatus) and the hookfin cardinalfish (Osterhinchus griffini) are found throughout the Philippine archipelago, and outside of the Philippines, have only been recorded in waters along the northern tip of Borneo. The twinspot coralblenny is a small fish (up to 6 cm in length) that perches on top of coral colonies or boulders. They are usually solitary and feed on small marine organisms. A good and patient eye will usually spot one, especially on semi-protected or seaward reefs. A type location for the twinspot coralblenny is Anilao or Bohol. The hookfin cardinalfish is one of the larger representatives of the cardinalfish family. They can grow up to 15 cm in length. Their defining feature is a curved second dorsal fin and yellowish to reddish fins. Unlike coralblennies, they prefer silty or weedy habitats where they hover near crevices in the reef or amongst macroalgae like sargassum seaweed. A type location for the hookfin cardinalfish is in El Nido or Taytay Bay in Palawan.

Twinspot coralblenny from the Philippines

The Twinspot coralblenny…

Hookfish cardinalfish from El Nido, Philippines

The hookfish cardinalfish…

The real prizewinner for those looking to add range-restricted fishes to their fish-list is Kurt’s coralblenny (Ecsenius kurti). Kurt’s coralblenny is a greyish fish (6 cm) with three distinct, black lines and black-and-white spokes around the iris (see header image above). What makes it special is that it is known only from Palawan, Philippines. Northern Palawan, to be exact. Like most coralblennies, they perch on top of boulders or corals on shallow reefs. To find these little fishes, visit the reefs around the remote islands of northern Busuanga. The house reefs at Club Paradise or El Rio y Mar are great starting points. As we marvel and promote high diversity, we also must take a moment to admire marine life that is less prolific. In a way, all marine life started out as endemic to some place, before they sent their offspring to populate new areas…