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Puerto Rico Wildlife: 5 Species You Can See While Snorkeling

Coral reef underwater panorama with colorful tropical fish, Caribbean sea

Puerto Rico is one of the top snorkeling destinations in the world, with its crystal-clear waters, healthy coral reefs, mangroves, and seagrass beds. On an underwater adventure along the coast of Puerto Rico, you can discover a vast array of tropical fish, sea turtles, and more. There’s a wide variety of sea life to see as you swim over the reefs and explore the magical world beneath the surface.

Before you take the plunge, learn about the Puerto Rico sea life you can expect to see on a snorkeling adventure.

Coral Reefs

While you might not immediately think of them as such, corals are in fact animals. They are sessile animals, meaning they “take root” in a permanent spot, much like plants do. But they differ from plants in that they don’t make their own food.

Coral structures are actually made up of hundreds or thousands of tiny creatures called polyps. They have a symbiotic relationship with algae, and they support fish and other marine life, making them an important part of the ecosystem.

Puerto Rico is home to abundant coral reefs. You can find all seven species of endangered Caribbean corals at the Tres Palmas Marine Reserve, including elkhorn coral, staghorn coral, and boulder star coral. This reserve plays an important part in the conservation of the island’s marine species, and it has a great snorkeling site at Steps Beach.

You can also find healthy reefs at Mona Island, Desecheo Island, La Parguera, Rincón, and Cabo Rojo. Many reefs suffered during Hurricane Maria, but there are conservation efforts in place to help restore and preserve them.

a turtle in the grass

Photo by Olga Tsai on Unsplash

Sea Turtles

The island’s charming sea turtles are one of the most exciting sights for snorkelers. Leatherback and green sea turtles are common along the beaches of Culebra, like Tamarindo and Carlos Rosario, near the Luis Peña Natural Reserve. You can often see hawksbill turtles on Mona Island, home of a turtle sanctuary. Other turtle species in the area include loggerhead and olive ridley.

Snorkeling is a great way to see turtles because it’s eco-friendly and doesn’t disturb their habitats. Turtles nest on the island’s beaches from February to August, and it’s important to give them safe nesting grounds clear of human activity to do so.

a polar bear swimming in a pool of water

Photo by Ruben Ortega on Unsplash


The gentle manatees of Puerto Rico favor the extensive seagrass beds, where they can graze on the nourishing grass. The island’s Antillean manatees are smaller than their Florida relatives, measuring about 10 feet in length and weighing anywhere between 1200 and 2000 pounds. That’s pretty impressive, considering they mainly eat seagrass!

Also known as sea cows, manatees have round bodies covered in sparse hairs, and the whiskers on their snouts add to their adorable appearance. If you’re on the western coast of the island, you can often spot them in shallow areas, estuaries, rivers, and saltwater bays. You can also see them in Cabo Rojo and Mayaguez.

Sadly, manatees are endangered, but there are many conservation efforts on the island, with scientists and volunteers working together to protect this species.

a fish swimming under water

Photo by NOAA on Unsplash

Manta Rays

It’s always a delight to see manta rays elegantly gliding through the water on a snorkeling excursion. You might be surprised to learn that manta rays belong to the elasmobranch group, which also includes sharks.

These plankton feeders use their gills to filter microscopic organisms from the water. Their flattened bodies and wing-like fins make them look like they’re flying rather than swimming. You can see manta rays when snorkeling from the beaches of Culebra and Vieques.

a close up of a fish

Photo by NOAA on Unsplash

Tropical Fish

You’re bound to see many species of fish on a snorkeling tour in Puerto Rico. Among the coral reefs on the western side of the island, you can see colorful specimens such as stoplight parrotfish, butterfly fish, and queen angelfish. Swimming through the flourishing seagrass beds, it’s common to see seahorses, eels, juvenile snappers, and a variety of mollusks, crustaceans, and more.

Anglers can also find a variety of game fish, including different species of snapper, yellowmouth grouper, mahi-mahi, yellowfin tuna, tarpon, wahoo, and more!

The waters around Puerto Rico are home to a wonderfully biodiverse ecosystem. As you encounter these amazing species underwater, you’ll understand why it’s so important to preserve their habitats and help them thrive for generations to come.

Book a snorkeling tour in Puerto Rico and get ready for some unforgettable wildlife sightings!