Dive Into The World’s Most Awe-Inspiring Reefs

Each coral reef is an underwater city. These diverse ecosystems take centuries to build as calcium carbonate exoskeletons collect over time, reaching higher and higher into the saline sky.

The result is both massive and fragile, a wild world housing tens of thousands of creatures great and small, from sea turtles to sea anemones. And once you’ve dove into the water, your snorkeling gear pressed tight against your face, you become an ardent tourist of that city, wide–eyed and buoyant as you watch its inhabitants dart past with elegant precision.

Here are five of the world’s most mesmerizing reef systems for you to explore.

RAJA AMPAT, INDONESIA

From the critters of Sel Pele and the nudibranchs (sea slugs) of Bird Wall, to the trevallies and tuna fish at Kri Island, this Coral Triangle hot spot is one of the world’s best liveaboard destinations.

Sprawling both sides of the equator, its warm waters are clearest and calmest between mid-October and mid-December. But adventurers come here year round to snorkel through the shallows and the sea grass, venturing through one of the most diverse marine environments on the planet.

GREAT BARRIER REEF, AUSTRALIA

Known to Aborigines for centuries, it wasn’t until Captain James Cook sailed its length in 1770 that the world became aware of this gargantuan reef on the East Coast of Australia. Now, protected by marine park status, the world’s largest coral reef system stretches for more than 1,200 miles and supports more than 30 species of whales, dolphins and porpoises.

To visit the reef, head to Cairns, Port Douglas or Airlie Beach, and choose between scuba diving, snorkeling, sailing and seaplane tours, or try a low-tide ‘reef walk’ and follow a conservationist along sandy paths between the living coral.

BELIZE BARRIER REEF, BELIZE

Described in 1842 by Charles Darwin as ‘the most remarkable’ in the West Indies, this impressive series of reefs became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1996. Plunge in and you’ll see why as you explore a vast and surprising network of cayes, lagoons, mangrove forests and estuaries.

Don’t let your mask fog up or you might miss manatees and marine crocodiles swim past. You’ll also see one of the true wonders of the oceanic world: the Great Blue Hole, a stunning, 354 foot-deep sinkhole where nurse sharks and giant groupers glide through the crystal-clear waters.

NORTH EMMA REEF, PAPUA NEW GUINEA

Known for its jaw-dropping underwater topography and dramatic diversity, North Emma features vertigo-inducing drops, a vast coral saddle and a deep bommie (pinnacle). One of several dive sites in Kimbe Bay, the reef is festooned in a forest of sea fans, lilies and leather coral. With no noticeable tides or currents, visibility can be more than 27 yards, making it easy for you to spot more than 900 types of marine life, ranging from the pygmy seahorse to sperm whales.

RAINBOW REEF, TAVEUNI, FIJI

Put on the map by Jacques Cousteau, some say that only five percent of this aptly named reef system has been explored. Sink beneath the surface and you’ll enter the soft coral capital of the world, where nutrient-rich currents support more than 230 corals and around 1,200 fish species.

Home to rays and barracuda, as well as turtles and sharks, this year-round site enjoys its best visibility between April and October. Anytime you dive here you will be amazed by the reef’s most famous coral collection, the Great White Wall, a massive barrier blanketed in luminescent corals.

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