The Maldives are made up of 1,200 islands and 26 atolls; the waters feature a beautiful landscape of corals and vibrant array of marine life. Unfortunately, with the warming of the ocean waters, particularly the El Niño weather event of 1998, a majority of coral suffered from heavy bleaching, dying off; however, over the past few years, there have been encouraging signs of recovery.
Located in the South Pacific off the northeast coast of Australia, this double-barrier reef is home to a variety of marine life, many of which are still in the process of being discovered and classified, with the Green turtle and 1,000 fish species already documented. Approximately 1,200 miles long, this reef, which is over 5,000 years old, is home to 300 hard coral species and about 1,200 fish, of which 10 percent are found only in this area.
Located between the second and third largest islands of Fiji, Vania Levi and Tavern, Rainbow Reef is the perfect name for this locale, as it features a kaleidoscope of vibrant colors under the water, provided by the hard and soft corals and marine life that call the area home. Indeed, there are 230 hard and soft corals and close to 1,200 fish species, creating a feast for the eyes.
Divers swimming with a turtle, Tabatha Reefs Natural Park, Philippines | © Room the Agency / Alamo Stock Photo A stunning underwater landscape made up of vibrant corals and marine life, Tabatha Reefs in the Philippines is recognized as a top diving site in the world.
Bioluminescent seaman surrounded by a halo of reef fish, Raja Am pat, Indonesia | © Howard Chew / Alamo Stock Photo When scientists discovered this fact, they put a plan into motion to protect this underwater habitat, as so many reefs around the world are at risk.
Green Sea Turtle, Planar Reef, Cozumel, Quintana Roo, Mexico | © Cultural Creative Ltd / Alamo Stock Photo Divers return again and again to this beautiful hidden gem off the coast of the island Cozumel in Mexico.
While it may not be as large as other reefs, it is just as beautiful with its multicolored (think bright pinks, greens, oranges, and yellows) marine flora and fauna. In order to keep the water as pristine as possible, scientists conducting research don’t even wear sunscreen.
Coral reef thrives in Wasabi National Park, Indonesia | © Stock trek Images, Inc. / Alamo Stock Photo A tentative World Heritage Site, this underwater gem is located off the southeast portion of Sulawesi, Indonesia.
Norkeller underwater with fish and corals, North Bay, Lord Howe Island, NSW, Australia | © Suzanne Long / Alamo Stock Photo Another UNESCO World Heritage Site, the entire Belize Barrier Reef Reserve System was inscribed in 1996.
It has the largest barrier reef in the Northern Hemisphere, plus several other highlights like coastal lagoons and mangrove forests. However, due to man-made or natural causes, it’s not for certain which, over 40 percent of the coral reefs are damaged, making protection efforts that much more important.
Stoplight parrot fish (Scars virile) at Stove-pipe sponge (Applying archers), Bonfire, Netherlands Antilles | © Helmut Cornell / Alamo Stock Photo Known as ‘The Diver’s Paradise’, the Bonfire Reef is home to a dazzling display of hard and soft corals in bright blues, greens, yellows, purples, and pinks, like an artist’s palette.
The Chimneys feature two coral towers adorned with soft coral in various colors, while the Grand Central Station is known for the plethora of sea life the area attracts, including manta rays, marble rays, hammerhead sharks, and many others. Coral reefs are the foundation of our underwater ecosystems, providing both food and protection for marine life.
Here at Blue water Travel, we have the privilege of conducting dozens of trips and photography workshops in countless scuba diving destinations around the world every year, many of which have amazing coral reefs! To make it easier for you to choose your next vacation spot, we've rounded up a list of the world's 5 best coral reef destinations, for scuba diving and snorkeling.
Photographed by Mark Strickland while leading our annual Raja Am pat photo workshop. Some of Indonesia's best diving can be found in the Damper Strait, a vast area which separates the islands of Siege (North) and Atlanta (Central Raja Am pat); and Pistol Island which is located in South Raja Am pat.
Raja Am pat has vast amounts of colorful soft corals and large sea fans. These corals are prevalent in both the northern and southern areas of Raja Am pat, near Cape MRI and Pistol.
Manta Ray and corals at Pistol Island in southern Raja Am pat. “From its azure blue waters and picturesque green jungle islands, to the expansive healthy hard and soft coral reefs below abounding with marine life, Raja Am pat is a destination that even seasoned divers will enjoy.
The hard coral reefs are unmatched in their extent and health, often stretching unbroken as far as the eye can see. Raja Am pat offers an excellent variety of all creatures, large and small, and should be at the top of every diver’s bucket list.
Pistol Island is replete with colorful soft corals as well as abundant mangrove forests. There are even some places where you can see both together, with soft corals growing on the mangrove roots themselves, giving those who see this a chance to capture it on wide-angle photography.
Some of the world's most luxurious linerboards, such as the Arena and the Damien I & II, can be found in Raja Am pat. There are several routes to get to Raja Am pat, but one of the easiest ways is to fly to Jakarta (CGK), and then on to Strong (SO).
Most dive resorts and linerboards provide return transfers from and to the airport either for free or with a reasonable surcharge. Please note that some linerboards may depart from a different town, depending on the itinerary that you choose.
With a total coral reef area of 3,591 km2, various marine life such as whales, dolphins, dugouts, and turtles thrive. One of the best coffee table books ever published, featuring underwater photography, is Within a Rain bowed Sea “, by Chris Newer.
“The Solomon Islands offer a tremendous variety of underwater terrain and habitats, with coral gardens, walls, muck, pinnacles, fringing reefs, caverns & crevices, and a wealth of WWII plane and shipwrecks. Being part of the Coral Triangle', marine biodiversity is also outstanding, with a huge range of fish and invertebrate species.
From the U.S. or Europe, you can get to the Solomon Islands via Australia, either through Brisbane (BNE) or Cairns (CNS) or through Fiji (NAN). Dubbed “The Underwater Photographer’s Paradise,” Papua New Guinea, also commonly referred to as PNG, is part of the Bismarck Archipelago and forms the southern ridge of the Ring of Fire.
“Situated off the north coast of New Britain, surrounded by volcanic mountains and generally deep water, Kim be Bay offers a wide spectrum of underwater habitats including coral gardens, pinnacles, drop-offs, and mucky slopes. Marine life is similarly varied, and reflects the outstanding biodiversity associated with its location in the famed Coral Triangle”.
Most sites feature hard and soft corals, sponges and Oregonians, and are home to a great variety of critters and reef fish. There’s also a healthy population of sharks, and marine mammals like dolphins and pilot whales are encountered with some frequency.
Samurai Island and Government Pier host excellent macro biodiversity, with various octopuses, mantis shrimp, razor fish, crocodile fish, and many more. There are over 7,000 different cultural groups in PNG, bringing unparalleled richness and diversity in art, dance, weaponry, costumes, singing, music, architecture, and much more.
You can also have the chance to visit different villages in PNG and get to witness a courtship or mourning demonstration, a fire ceremony, and performances by the “Mud Men” of PNG's Western Highlands; You can also observe the country's unique agricultural and farming practices, and be treated to a sing-sing, a gathering of the local tribes where they present their distinct culture, dance and music. Fly in either from Australia, either through Brisbane (BNE) or Cairns (CNS) or from any of these Asian capitals--Singapore (SIN), Hong Kong (HKG), Manila (MNL), and Tokyo (HND).
The soft coral gardens found at dive sites around the Bligh Waters and Rainbow Reefs regions in Fiji will mesmerize any diver with the cacophony of colors and multitude of antics dancing around them. Vatu-I-Ra Passage in the Bligh Water region hosts some of the best dive sites for soft coral gardens in all of Fiji.
Dive sites like Mellow Yellow and Black Magic Mountain give Fiji her reputation as the soft coral capital of the world. The tidal currents and warm waters make it the perfect place for soft corals to bloom.
Since Fiji is very tourist-friendly, there are flights directly from Los Angeles (LAX) to Nazi (NAN), the capital. Considered one of the seven wonders of the underwater world, the Red Sea is located in the northernmost part of the Indian Ocean and is rimmed by shallow submarine shelves and extensive fringing reef systems.
“Very few top dive destinations can be combined with amazing topside attractions, and the Red Sea is one of them. The Red Sea is home to large Green Turtles, as well as hard corals teeming with life.
Get ready to say hello to a Napoleon wrasse, or an even a whale shark during your dive in the Red Sea. It’s easy, not to mention affordable, to get to Share (SSH), Surface (HOG), and Maria Adam (RMF) from many cities in Europe.
Diving season: Year-round Water Temperatures: Average at 30 °C (86 °F) in June to August and reaching its coldest at 22 °C (72 °F) in February. In the Caribbean, we've got the Planar Reef in San Miguel de Cozumel, Mexico, with its stunning variety of colors, so wondrous that it’s referred to as the “underwater Garden of Eden.” And let's not leave out Belize Barrier Reef, the second-largest in the world, with its 56 different types of corals, and 300 species of fish.
Neighboring Fiji and the Solomon Islands, Vanuatu has some spectacular reef systems and huge coral specimens in crystal clear waters, perfect for photography. In Southeast Asia, we have the Philippines, home to amazing coral reefs, excellent marine biodiversity, and prominent pelagic fish action in certain areas, especially in the world -famous Tabatha Reefs Natural Park.
And in Indonesia, destinations such as Bunker diving have some of the most impressive reefs in SE Asia. We'll provide recommendations and get you booked on any boat or resort, help sort out your flights, transfers, and just about everything else you need to have an amazing trip--all that at no additional cost than doing it all yourself.