Experiencing Ascension Island’s beautiful underwater scenery is one of life’s great pleasures. Previous volcanic activity has created ranges of peaks with sheer cliffs and boulders tumbling to the seabed. Some rocky peaks break the surface, others remain beneath. Boulders are rugged and jagged, excellent camouflage territory for the scorpionfish; others are smoother, good perches for blennies. All crevices, valleys and caves are alive with fish. The cliffs and boulders give way to sand, or pebbles which in turn stretch into sand.

When visibility is good, the rocks illuminated by sunshine create a wonderful background to the brilliant colours of the fish, small corals and sponges. Amazing mixed shoals of some fish and many different varieties of others, all display their distinctive behaviour. On other days you are caught in an avalanche of bubbles from the swell exploding against the rocks.

This publication is a photographic guide of fish as snorkellers see them. Colours are variable as they change with depth. Reds have disappeared by 4 metres, orange and yellow fading as the fish go deeper. Those photographed with ‘flash’ show their actual colour which can be quite surprising! All photographs were taken by John, except those with credits.

The fish are arranged alphabetically by their international names, followed by local and latin names, thus:

BLACK DURGON/”BLACKFISH” Melichthys niger.

Identifying fish accurately is notoriously difficult. Fish with international and/or local names plus latin names have been positively identified. Gaps, question marks or sp. (species uncertain) show a need for further study. Dr Edwards makes the point that only by studying a dead specimen can you be certain it is unable to change its colour, texture and spots! Do go and explore this fascinating underwater world!


The authors wish to express their gratitude to: Jimmy Young, Ascension Island’s leading authority on local fish; without him we would have missed many of the smaller fish. Dr Alasdair Edwards of The University of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, the author of “Fish and Fisheries of St Helena Island”, for kindly checking our manuscript. Dr Ken Collins and Jenny Mallinson, Southampton Oceanography Centre, for their help. 

John & Jane Bingeman outside Fort Hayes, Ascension Island, January 2002.

John Bingeman has been a professional diver since 1957, when he qualified with the Royal Navy. He remained with the Navy for 36 years, serving as an engineer officer. His service took him to Suez, Aden, Tanzania and Indonesia. He was involved in the Biafran war, and was attached to the Ghanaian Navy during the coup which ousted President Nkrumah.

Among the ships he served in were HMS Daring, HMS Centaur, HMS Intrepid and HMS Fearless; “Excellent diving platforms from which to develop valuable experience!” He trained at the Royal Naval Engineering College at Keyham, and was involved in the HMS Exmouth aero-gas turbine conversion. John was the President of the Royal Navy Sub-aqua Association from 1979 – 1984.

Jane has also seen the world, and served in Germany with the R.A.F. and Malaya with the Commonwealth Brigade where she helped run recreational clubs for the services. She also lived in the U.S.A. for a period, and has had poetry published in various anthologies.

John and Jane have enjoyed snorkelling and diving in many parts of the world. John’s interest in Ascension Island started in 1979 when he spent six weeks as a member of the Joint Services Expedition studying the marine environment. In 1991 and 1992 he was invited back to supervise RAF recreational diving, and Jane accompanied him. Since 1999 they have returned annually, spending over a month on each visit, studying, identifying and photographing the fish. Having discovered available information was fragmented and often contradictory, they decided to collate their work into this guide.

Since their retirement, John and Jane have investigated and written extensively on maritime archaeology. John is currently the Government licensee for the “Invincible” (1758) historic wreck site. After 11 years of excavation, the representative collection of artefacts are displayed at Chatham Historic Dockyard. His reports and specialist papers have been published.

Heritage Fish

International Name Local Name Scientific Name
Angelfish, French Pomacanthus paru
Angelfish, Resplendent Splendid Angelfish Centropyge resplendens
Balloonfish Porcupinefish Diodon holocanthus
Barracuda, Great Sphyraena barracuda
Black Durgon Blackfish Melichthys niger
Blenny, Mottled Scartella nuchifilis
Blenny, Redlip Devilfish Ophioblennius atlanticus atlanticus
Boxfish, Island Hogfish Acanthostracion notacanthus
Butterflyfish, St.Helena Cunningfish Chaetodon sanctaehelenae
Butterflyfish, Hedgehog Chocolate ButterflyfishChaetodon dichrous
Cardinalfish, Axillary-spot Red Mullet Apogon axillaris
Chub, Sea Brim Kyphosus sectatrix
Crab, Sally Lightfoot Grapsus grapsus
Crayfish Longlegs Panulirus echinatus
Creolefish Paranthias furcifer
Cucumber, Sea Holothuria sp.
Damselfish, Apollo Cavalley Pilot Chromis sp.
Damselfish, Lubbock's Yellowtail Stegastes lubbocki
Dolphinfish, Common Dorado Coryphaena hippurus
SpottedCommon Conger Gymnothorax moringa
FangtoothBird-eye CongerEnchelycore anatina
Chain Tiger Echidna catenata
Broadbanded Banded Eel Channomuraena vittata
Filefish, Scrawled Aluterus scriptus
Fireworm Hermodice carunculata
Flounder, PeacockBothus lunatus
Flounder, St. Helena Solefish Bothus mellissi
Flying Fish
Goatfish, Yellow Beardfish Mulloidichthys martinicus
Goby, Ascension Priolepis ascensionis
Hawkfish, White Amblycirrhitus earnshawi
Jack, Almaco Seriola rivoliana
Jack, Black Coalfish Caranx lugubris
Lizardfish, Diamond RockspearSynodus synodus
Mullet, Sand Mugil curvidens
Needlefish, Keeltail Pipefish Platybelone argalus trachura
Octopus Squid Octopus vulgaris
ParrotfishRockfish Sparisoma strigatum
Pen Shell, Rude (Amber) Pinna rudis (linne)
Pompano Silverfish Trachinotus ovatus
Pufferfish, St. Helena Bastard Hogfish Canthigaster sanctaehelenae
Ray, Manta Diamondfish Mobula ?hypostoma
Ray, Manta Mobula ?mobular
Razorfish, Marmalade Xyrichtys blanchardi
Red Hind GrouperEpinephelus sp.
Rock Hind The Jack or Grouper Epinephelus adscensionis
Scorpionfish, Spotted Gurnard Scorpaena plumieri
Seabream Old Wife Diplodus ascensionis
Sergeant Major Five Fingers Abudefduf saxatilis
Shark, Galapagos Galapagos Shark Carcharhinus galapagensis
Snapper, Glasseye Rock Bullseye Heteropriacanthus cruentatus
Soapfish, Greater Soapfish Rypticus saponaceus
Soldierfish, Blackbar Softback Soldier Myripristis jacobus
Squirrelfish Hardback Soldier Holocentrus adscensionis
Starfish Ophidiaster guildingi
Surgeonfish, BlueBlue Tang Acanthurus coeruleus
Surgeonfish, Doctorfish Acanthurus chirurgus
Surgeonfish, Ocean Shitty Trooper Acanthurus bahianus
Tilefish, Sand Malacanthus plumieri
Triggerfish, Ocean Filefish Canthidermis sufflamen
Triggerfish, Queen Balistes vetula
Trumpetfish Trantran Aulostomus strigosus
Turtle, Green Chelonia mydas
Turtle, Hawksbill Eretmochelys imbricata
Urchin, Sea Diadema antillarum ascensionis
Urchin, Pencil Sea Eucidaris clavata
Wrasse, Ascension Thalassoma ascensionis
Wrasse, St. Helena Greenfish Thalassoma sanctaehelenae
Wrasse, Island Hogfish Parrotfish Bodianus insularis