Well, it’s official. Mermaids are actually not frolicking in our seas.

With apologies to Hans Christian Andersen, Daryl Hannah and countless sailors of yore, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) announced last week that there is no evidence to support the existence of mermaids.

Bummer, right? But take heart. There are plenty of other cool critters to discover (did you know that there’s a crustacean named after Bob Marley?). And no place in our oceans is as packed with colorful life as our coral reefs.

In fact, thousands of scientists around the world – including our very own Stephanie Wear – are in Cairns, Australia for the International Coral Reef Symposium, a gathering every four years to share new information and best practices on conserving the world’s reefs.

So in honor of our fallen mermaid heroines, here are five (real) creatures you may not have heard of that are currently living, swimming and floating in our coral reefs.

The Secretary Blenny

Isn’t he cute?? These little guys spend their days hanging out in nooks and crannies waiting for their next meal to float by. Those giant eyes aren’t just for looking adorable; they give the blenny extra-sharp vision to pick up the tiniest particles of food.

White Christmas Tree Worm

Just when you thought you’ve seen it all, along comes an underwater worm adorned with fir-tree shaped “crowns”. But don’t be fooled, these delicate-looking spirals are tough enough to bore holes into living stony corals, creating a safe (and cozy) home.

Nudibranch

Get your mind out of the gutter…nudibranches are the slow-moving, strikingly-colored sea slugs that thrive in the warm, shallow waters of the tropics. Because they don’t have shells, nudibranches have developed chemical defenses to protect against predators. This rich chemistry is an avenue of research for scientists looking for new cancer drugs.

Mandarinfish

Move over, Nemo. You have some competition for coolest color pattern in the Mandarinfish. Its name comes from its extremely vivid coloration, evoking the robes of an Imperial Chinese mandarin.

Longlure Frogfish

I want to hug this one. He’s like an orange Mr. Potato Head with feet. Frogfish avoid predators by blending in with sea sponges. And when it’s time to move, they use their fins to waddle across the ocean floor. I think I need to stow away on the next boat to the Caribbean just to witness that.

While Ariel may not be real, I feel better knowing that these creatures are alive and thriving in our coral reefs. Now let’s be sure to keep it that way.

(Image 1: Mermaid on the steps. Image 1 credit: Flickr User SteveR- via a Creative Commons License. Image 2: Unknown blenny in coral near the Solomon Islands in the South Pacific. Image 2 credit: © Daniel & Robbie Wisdom. Image 3: White Christmas Tree Worm taken in the area of Papua New Guinea and Sulawesi. Image 3 credit: ©Daniel & Robbie Wisdom. Image 4: Nudibranch in the Pacific region of the Solomon Islands. Image 4 credit: © Daniel & Robbie Wisdom. Image 5: Mandarinfish in the area of Papua New Guinea and Sulawesi. Image 5 credit: © Daniel & Robbie Wisdom. Image 6: Longlure Frogfish in the protected marine park, Parque Nacional del Este. Image 6 credit: © Jeff Yonover.)

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