Reef Cleaning Stations

Roger the wrasse and the itchy fishes!

I am SO EXCITED to add to my series of ocean science stories for children with “Roger the wrasse and the itchy fishes”, written and illustrated by Dr Suzie Starfish and published by Little Pink Dog Books. This is the third in my series of ocean stories to ‘draw attention’ to the importance of our oceans and the amazing creatures and their FIN-tastic features! As storytelling helps to engage, excite, educate and empower children this story illustrates diversity on the reef, the role of reef cleaning stations and the special roles and relationships animals have under the sea.

The release date of this picture book is still to be confirmed but it’s likely to be released in Australia and New Zealand on the 4th October 2023. In the meantime you can dive into the story behind the story and the progress of the book below and ‘sea’ my story as an Authorstrator with Little Pink Dog Books via

The story behind the story of Cleaning Stations

This is one of Roger the Wrasse’s cleaning stations on the Great Barrier Reef. Can you ‘sea’ him? (Photos taken by my hubby Dr Richo)

The story of “Roger the Wrasse” was inspired by the real-life and amazing role of cleaner fish and cleaner shrimp who literally clean itchy fishes on the reef. Cleaning stations appear on reefs where fish, sea turtles and other marine animals gather together to be cleaned, by some of the smallest creatures in the ocean (as you can ‘sea’ from the photos)! The cleaners, like Roger the wrasse, remove parasites and dead skill cells and bacteria from the gills, flesh and mouths of fish, manta rays, turtles and even sharks! This is a VERY special relationship as cleaner fish provide a cleaning service to their ‘clients’ and in return the cleaners get a full stomach.

I am forever fascinated by the amazing creatures we have in the ocean and the incredible features they have to do their important ‘jobs’. I wanted to showcase this as a story as it provides a great example of mutualism in nature where two organisms of different species are in a relationship in which BOTH benefit.

This story is also about celebrating the small creatures that do BIG things in the ocean. Roger the wrasse also shows us how little things can make a BIG difference in the world — and I hope kids of all ages who read this story grow up to be just like Roger… courageous and helpful! You can follow Roger’s journey and the creation of this story via my social media and the hashtag #itchyfishes

Just remember:

You are never too small to make a BIG difference in the world!

Roger the Wrasse cleaning an itchy fish on the Great Barrier Reef (Photos taken by my hubby Dr Richo)

Fun & fast cleaner facts

Did you know that cleaner fish:

  • Clean fish daily with some ‘clients’ seeking cleaners up to 144 times a day!
  • Can recognise familiar ‘client’ fish and avoid those that bite!
  • Can affect the abundance and diversity of reef fish
  • Use ‘tactile dancing’ as a pre-conflict management strategy to avoid being eaten!
  • Blue colouring within their pattern attracts more ‘client’ reef fish to the cleaning station
  • May possess complex co-operative and cognitive behaviours that had been assumed to only occur in primates and humans!

WOW!! Isn’t nature just amazing! These fun and fast facts are the results of almost 20 years of research from The Coral Reef Ecology Lab as documented in “The Cleaner Fish Chronicles“. It’s so great to ‘sea’ this research into the wonders of our underwater world and these amazing creatures and their FIN-tastic features. I love that I get to bring these important underwater stories to life through words and pictures.

My timeline – Creating the WORDS & PICTURES

This is where you can ‘sea’ the progress of my story, the inspiration behind the storyline and the illustration ideas. Dive in and follow Roger the Wrasse as we create the words and pictures.

April 2019 – It was SO great to ‘sea’ Roger the wrasse cleaning on the Great Barrier Reef whilst I was snorkelling at Lady Elliot Island! Can you ‘sea’ him too!?


August 2019 – The exciting announcement of my newest picture book in the series of children’s books about the science of the sea with Little Pink Dog Books!


November 2022 – I’m so excited to ‘sea’ the completion of the pencil “Roughs” illustrations!!

Stay tuned here for further updates on the progress of this story.

If you would like to know more about my ocean storytelling.

All artworks, stories and images are Copyright © 2023 Dr Sue Pillans