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A Glimpse into Gili Islands Sea Life: Species, Encounters, and Snorkeling Spots

Enjoying the beautiful beach and crystal-blue water of Gili Islands is already such a treat to our soul. But beneath the surface lies a hidden world more captivating: a wide variety of sea life to witness. Spotting these rarities takes a keen eye, but the reward is an unparalleled thrill. Sharpen your focus, because this article will guide you on your quest to explore the Gili Islands’ most elusive underwater residents.

Species of Sea Life in the Gilis

From the ever-present clownfish, angelfish, and turtles to occasional sightings of reef sharks, ghost pipefish, divers can expect an extensive variety of sea life in Gili Islands. Beyond the incredible fish, this place boasts vibrant coral reefs and ongoing coral restoration projects like BASK Nest and BioRocks. For underwater photographers and enthusiasts alike, the Gilis hold a treasure trove of vibrant colours and diverse shapes.

Corals: The Foundation of Life

Coral reefs are the heart of the Gili Islands sea life ecosystem with their diverse formation. These underwater heavens provide food and shelter for countless marine creatures. One prominent type is branching coral, which comes in a variety of shapes, sizes, and colours. Acropora Valenciennesi, for instance, can grow into massive colonies with horizontal table-like structures. You can find the big colony of this rare species in the shallows of Gili Air near Batfish Point.  

Another branching coral, Porites cylindrica, also thrives in the shallows. You can see Porites cylindrica on plenty of dive sites around the Gili Islands. Easily recognizable by its vibrant yellow or brown colours, this fast-growing species is more resistant to pollution and warming waters compared to other corals. This makes it a promising candidate for reef restoration programs. Among the fascinating finds underwater are also Birdnest coral (Seriatopora hystrix) with their delicate branching structures. Han’s Reef is a great place to spot them. These delicate colonies have thin branches with sharp tips and come in cream, yellow, or even blue in some regions. Due to their fragility, divers need to be extra cautious to avoid damaging them with their fins. 

Elkhorn coral (Isopora palifera) stands out with its thick, upward-growing columns, resembling a strong arm. These robust corals were once more abundant but have suffered due to human impact. Divers can still find them in deeper areas like Simon’s Reef. In contrast, Cauliflower coral (Pocillopora verrucosa) is a fast-growing and widespread species. Look for its dome-shaped colonies with stubby branches in high-wave areas or longer, open branches in calmer spots. These brownish or pink corals with tell-tale rusty red patches on their skeletons are a common sight on Gili Island dives.

Fish and other Critters: A Rainbow Beneath the Waves

From gentle giants like whale sharks (occasionally spotted), divers can swim through a variety of fascinating creatures in Gili Islands sea life. Ribbon eels with their vibrant colours might weave past you, while the unique wonderpus, found only in Indonesia and Malaysia, could be camouflaged on the seabed. The Gili Islands offer a chance to see a variety of intriguing underwater discoveries.

While encounters with larger predators are less frequent here compared to other parts of Indonesia, banded sea kraits, highly venomous but non-aggressive, and the blue-ringed octopus, both beautiful and poisonous, can be found in the surrounding waters. The Gili Islands are also home to a variety of captivating fish species. Look out for the odd-looking frogfish and the brightly coloured mandarinfish, famous for its mesmerising mating ritual. Even the shy, box-shaped boxfish might make an appearance, charming divers with their cartoonish looks and clumsy swimming, but beware—their cuteness hides a deadly toxin!

The Green Turtle is a common species you can find around the Gili islands. They can grow up to 1.5 metres in length while weighing up to 300 kilograms. You might get confused when first seeing them, as they don’t seem green at all. The reason this species is called ‘green’ is because the colour of their meat is green. Eating mainly seagrass causes their insides to turn green. It’s quite easy to point them out: if you see a turtle with a blunt beak, you certainly bumped into a green turtle. 

The Hawksbill turtles, however, grow only to 1 metre long and are smaller than green turtles. They also have a distinctive appearance to green turtles: darker shells and rougher segments. Just like their name, you can easily identify them by their hawk-like beak and also two claws on each of their flippers. Though they are less common around Gili Trawangan, you can spot them off the beach in front of Villa Almarik.

Macro Life: A World in Miniature

he Gili Islands offer more than just charismatic megafauna. Keen-eyed divers can also encounter some truly unique critters. One such oddity is the ornate ghost pipefish. This fascinating creature blends the features of a seahorse and a pipefish that makes them appear bizarre yet enchanting. However, spotting them can be a challenge. They’re masters of disguise, perfectly camouflaging themselves in the environment. So, keep your eyes peeled and you might just get lucky!

Not only the odd ghost pipefish, nudibranchs, a type of soft-bodied mollusk, are also a photographer’s dream. With over 3,000 known species and more being discovered all the time, nudibranchs have an incredible variety of colours and patterns. If you’re looking to capture these creatures on camera, consider a muck dive.

Should you want to level up your snorkelling experience, join us on a morning or afternoon cruise on our catamaran. In addition to seeing the Gili Meno Underwater Statues, we also travel to Turtle Heaven on the north side of Gili Meno where we see many turtles in both deep water and shallow water. Our friendly snorkelling guides will help locate the turtles and assist you as needed to ensure best visibility for the day. We also capture these moments for you on GoPro!

Reptiles & Mammals: Encounters of Majesty

Six of the world’s seven sea turtle species call the Gili Islands home, with Green turtles particularly abundant around Gili Trawangan. Here, you can snorkel alongside these gentle giants near Villa Almarik. For those seeking even more magical experiences, the nearby islands of Nusa Lembongan and Nusa Penida offer the chance to witness majestic manta rays gliding effortlessly through the crystal-clear waters. These graceful giants are a dream for many divers, and the Gilis’ location makes it an ideal spot to witness them. Beyond guaranteed sightings of turtles, divers might be lucky enough to swim into manta rays or even reef sharks, making their underwater adventure truly unforgettable.

Unique Marine Encounters and Top Snorkeling Spots in Gili Islands

The magic of the Gili Islands extends beyond the expected. Keen-eyed explorers might encounter fascinating creatures like octopus species, masters of disguise, or the delicate seahorse, clinging to coral with its prehensile tail. 

For those who prefer to explore the underwater world with just a mask and fins, the Gili Islands offer many incredible snorkeling spots, especially in Gili Trawangan. Beginners can explore the coral reefs and colourful fish teeming right off the beach at Trawangan Slope. More experienced snorkelers can venture to Halik Beach in the north for vibrant coral gardens or Turtle Point in the northeast, known for its abundance of gentle sea turtles. Even artificial reefs full of life can be found at BioRock in the south as proof to local conservation efforts and dedication. For a truly unique marine experience, explore the beautiful underwater statues near Gili Meno that serves as an ecological sanctuary for coral reefs. 

Snorkel gear rentals are readily available on the beach, or join our  guided catamaran tour, Utopia Catamaran, for a more comprehensive experience. You can take our five-hour cruise around the Gilis with us. We include a visit to the Nest Underwater Statues and will also take you to other fantastic snorkelling locations to enjoy Gili Islands sea life.

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