Sea Creature Feature of the Week: Parrotfish

Over 90 species of this vibrant species contribute significantly to the coral reef environment we know and love. When coral reef systems are healthy and free of toxic algae, they flourish. Fortunately, parrotfish are mostly herbivores that eat the coral, encourage new coral development, and clean away excess algae. According to The Nature Conservancy, parrotfish have more teeth within their throats, which break down these coral fragments and create the renowned white sands of South Pacific beaches. According to scientists, the Chlorurus gibbus parrotfish may defecate out more than 2,000 pounds of sand every year.

Other unique properties of parrotfish include certain species creating a bubble of mucus to sleep in to shield themselves from predators such as sharks and moray eels. Other species can shift gender and color, with males being the most colorful. This process, however, can take two to three years and is governed by hormones. Parrotfish are found on reefs worldwide, ranging in size from 1 to 4 feet and can survive up to 7 years.

Many parrotfish populations are not listed on the IUCN Red List, although they are thought to be of low conservation concern. Unfortunately, coral reefs suffer several challenges, such as pollution, invasive species, climate change, and other factors. Overfishing is a problem for parrotfish, which can help rehabilitate reefs all around the world. The Gulf of Mexico, the Atlantic Ocean surrounding the Bahamas, the Indian Ocean around the Maldives, and other areas have marine protected areas where catching parrotfish is illegal.