Layang-Layang Island

Layang-Layang Island, also known as Swallow Reef, is an elongated atoll that rises out of 6000 foot depths in the Spratly Islands west of Kota Kinabalu in the South China Sea. It is a place of beautiful walls and big fish. Later in the season the hammerhead sharks gather in large numbers, but they were still in very deep water when we were there, early in the diving season, and we were not able to photograph them.



The reef was filled to make a landing strip. Next to the strip are a military base and a resort. Further along the strip is an area where birds frequently nest.


Bigeye barracuda, Sphyraena forsten

Striped large-eye bream, Gnathodentex aureolineatus


Yellow-spotted trevally, Carangoides orthogrammus

Humpnose bigeye break (sub-adult), Monotaxis grandoculis

Pearly monocle bream, Scolopsis margaritifer

Pennant bannerfish, Heniochus chrysostomus

bannerfish bannerfish

Schooling bannerfish, Heniochus diphreutes

butterfly fish

Pyramid butterflyfish, Hemitaurichthys polylepis

pyramid butterfly fish pyramid butterfly fish

B;ack-backed butterflyfish, Chaetodon melannotis

Longnose butterflyfish, Forcipiger flavissimus

needlenose butterfly fish

Teardrop butterflyfish, Chaetodon unimaculatus

Triangular butterflyfish, Chaetodon triangulum

Raccoon butterflyfish, Chaetodon lunula

Ornate butterflyfish, Chaetodon ornatissimus

Saddled butterflyfish, Chaetodon ephippium

Pacific double-saddle butterflyfish, Chaetodon ulietensis

Panda butterflyfish, Chaetodon adiergastos

Emperor angelfish, Pomacanthus imperator

Tassled scorpionfish, Scorpaenopsis ocycephala

Japanese surgeonfish, Acanthurus japonicus

Spotted unicornfish, Naso brevirostris

Bignose unicornfish, Naso vlamingii

Peacock grouper, Cephalopholis argus

Slender grouper, Anyperodon leucogrammicus

Blue and yellow fusilier, Caeso teres

Bluestreak fusilier, Pterocaesio tile (red phase, right)

Parrotfish, Scarus sp., and grouper, Epinephelus sp.

coral trout

Bluepatch parrotfish, Scarius fortsteni

Bumphead parrotfish, Bulbometopon muricatum

Sabre squirrelfish, Sargocentron spniferum

red fishes

Peppered squirrelfish, Sargocentron punctatissimum

Clearfin lionfish, Pterois radiata

Bluestripe snapper, Lutjanus kasmura

Clown triggerfish, Balistoides conspicillum

clown tang

Titan triggerfish, Balistoides viridescens

Many-spotted sweetlips, Plectorhinchus chaetodonoides


Oriental sweetlips, Plectorhincus vittatus

Arc-eye hawkfish, Paracirrhites arcatus


Fire dartfish, Nemateleotris magnifica

flame gobies

Foxface rabbitfish, Siganus valpinus

rabbit fish

Doublebar goatfish, Parspeneus bifaciatus

White-spotted puffer, Arothron hispidus

puffer fish face

Black-spotted puffer, Arothron nigropunctatus

Star puffer, Arothron stellatus

Guineafowl puffer, Arothron meleagris

Map puffer, Arothron mappa

Golden damsel, Amblyglyphidodon aureus

Reticulated dascyllus, Dascyllus reticulatus

Ternate chromis, Chromis ternatensenis

Malayan chromis, Chromis falvipectoralis

Reef lizardfish, Synodus variegatus

Zebra shark, Stegostoma fasciatum

The Layang Layang resort exists partly for a political reason. It helps to solidify Malaysia's claim to the island and to the waters around it. But the fish life is prolific and the diving is wonderful. There are many different species!

Tomato anemonefish, Amphiprion frenatus


Orange anemonefish, Amphiprion sandaracinos


Clark's anemonefish, Amphiprion clarkii


These are clown fish, which live in a symbiotic relationship with anemones. Just as there are different kinds of clown fish, there are different kinds of anemones.

Crabs, Shrimp, and Clams

crab squat lobster shrimp tridacna clam

There are several kinds of crabs and shrimp. The left photo is a ridged round crab, Lophozozymus incisus.The middle photo is a small squat lobster, Basa's crinoid squat lobster, Allogalathea basai, who is hiding on a crinoid. The third photo shows a tiny clear cleaner shrimp, Urocaridella antonbruunii. The last photo shows the mantle of a giant clam, Tridacna gigas. The color comes from algae.

Other reef creatures

fan and crinoids fans leather coral soft coral

There are sea fans and corals here too.


Hawksbill turltle, Eretmochelys imbricata

turtle turtle closeup

Granular sea star, Choriaster granulatus

Pineapple sea cucumber, Thelenota ananas

Hairy blackfish sea cucumber, Actinopygma miliaris

Nudibranchs (species identification are our best guesses; we welcome corrections!):

Loch's chromodoris, Chromodoris lochi

Pteraeolidia ianthina

Willan's phyllidia, Phyllidia willani

Phyllidia elegans

Phyllidiella rudmani

Phyllidia sp.

Pustulose phyllidiella, Phyllidiella pustolosa

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Last modified 20 December 2022