Get to Know The Cardinalfish in Lembeh Strait

Cardinalfish are maybe one of the least recognized marine species that we see on our reefs – but they are fascinating! We even have a unique species that is only found here in Lembeh and a couple of other destinations in Indonesia.

If you have an interest in marine life – read on!

Characteristics of Cardinalfish 

Did you know that cardinalfish are not just one species? Within this family of fish, there is thought to be around 370 individual species known scientifically as Apogonidae.

When it comes to identifying cardinalfish, they are generally small fishes that rarely exceed 10 cm in length. They can be distinguished by their large mouths combined with the division of the dorsal fin into two separate fins – a unique characteristic of this family.

The Banggai Cardinalfish

Banggai Cardinalfish, Lembeh Strait

Here in Lembeh we have one very special species of cardinalfish – the Banggai Cardinalfish. This is an endemic species that can be found at our dive sites – usually found in schools around anemones. It is so rare that in 2016, the NOAA Fisheries listed the species as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.

Banggai cardinalfish have beautiful body patterns that display both spots and stripes in intricate detail. Their gold, black and white bodies are stunning and make them incredible underwater photography subjects.

Cardinalfish Reproduction

Did you know that cardinalfish have a very unique method when it comes to breeding and reproduction? These fish take their parental duties very seriously.  This type of care is called mouth brooding and is a way for them to protect their eggs from hungry predators. In cardinalfish, the duty is tasked to the father, but in some fish species, the mother carries the eggs. The parent must forgo eating for the entire time that the eggs are in their mouth, a time that can last several weeks. 

Spotting Cardinalfish in Lembeh

Muck Diving in Lembeh

We are extremely fortunate to have a mixture of dive sites here in the Lembeh Strait. Our sites offer both black sand muck diving and sites that include coral reefs, rubble, and walls. Cardinalfish can be spotted at all of these sites. If you are trying to spot them, we recommend looking at the anemones and over any debris on black sand sites. You will often see them hovering over tree logs that have entered the water and other natural detritus. 

Cardinalfish and Underwater Photography

One of the beauties of cardinalfish is that they are a schooling species. We often see schools of up to 30 individuals over anemones. When taking pictures, we recommend focusing on one individual to ensure a crisp image.

If you would like more information – or to learn more about your camera settings, visit our Photo Center for more information and advice.

Ready to Book?

Lembeh resort bird view shot

If you are ready to book your stay with Lembeh Resort or would like to get more information about our rates, contact us on

Further Reading?

If you enjoyed reading this article, you may also like: