Playa del Carmen, Mexico has one of the world’s largest underwater cave complexes. These Yucatan cave-diving sites shimmer ghostlike in eerie emerald hues and topaz-colored stalactites. Made famous decades ago by Jacques Cousteau, Mexico’s Cozumel is exclusive to the advanced diver. Cozumel’s plummeting vertical walls and strong undercurrents teem with tropical fish, hawksbill and green turtles. The spotted moray eels and camouflaged spiny crustaceans and lobsters blend with the colorful coral, and the whimsically striped toadfish can be seen nowhere else in the world.
Another renowned Cousteau recommendation is New Zealand’s Poor Knights Islands with its marine reserves of kingfish, blue mao, golden snapper, dolphins, whales, seals and orca. Discover the “magic of the miniature” – the glowing nebulosity of nudibranch “sea slugs” in flirty patterns, fronds of sea fans and anemones, the angelfish and blennies darting through coral-encrusted hideouts. At Poor Knights Island you can coax the puff into the pufferfish, tickle the pigfish and follow the “eye” of the exotic John Dory.
For the snorkeler and beginning diver, Travel Benefits By Design recommends the relaxing beautiful reefs of Fiji’s Soft Coral Gardens. A profusion of angelfish, blue chromis, orange and purple anthias, and parrotfish swim through plumes of pinks and reds, golden polyps, and sea feathers. Intermediate through advanced divers should explore Fiji’s Namena, the “Marine equivalent of the Serengeti” with its pilot, minke, sperm, and humpback whales and 4 out of the 7 sea turtles that exist in the world. Nestled amongst Namena’s fleshy spotted anemones and luminous brain coral are giant clams, flamboyant lionfish, the blue-ribboned eel, the shy octopus enwrapped along impossibly narrow crevasses, the translucent delicate seahorse, the pouty grouper, and the fluorescent purple dottyback.
The Caribbean’s calm predictable waters make it the perfect place to begin your scuba journey. Bonaire’s Marine Park is the haunt of underwater photographers with friendly tangs, whiskered goatfish, sea turtles, damsel and angel fish floating along fire coral. Even the shy peacock flounder will emerge, showing delicately ringed blue spots. At Bonaire you will find the statuesque elkhorn, staghorn, and star coral. In complete contrast to Bonaire is the sheer isolation of the famed Great Blue Hole of Belize. The Great Blue Hole’s caverns of karst limestone ledges, stalactites and stalagmites descend to 440 feet of utter blackness, and it takes advanced divers to withstand the decompression limits. Nonetheless, the atolls surrounding the Great Blue Hole are filled with diversity such as the colonies of garden eels sheltered by sand chutes, the Antillean/Caribbean manatees and sea turtles grazing on kelp, and the oh-so-enthusiastic cleaner shrimp with colorful “jumpsuits” ready to latch onto any finned passerby, human divers included. At Turks and Caicos, watch dotted eagle rays and dolphins pass overhead, and at the Dominican Republic, witness the Columbus Passage of migratory humpback whales while snorkeling or diving during the months of January thru April.
The crowning achievement for divers is the Great Barrier Reef off the coast of Australia. Containing over 2,500 individual reefs and over 900 islands, with the largest reef system on earth and oceanic waters running well over 2000 metres deep, the Great Barrier Reef is “the Final Frontier of the Sea World”. Many rare and endangered marine species can only be found here. View comical oddities like “Popeye-armed” fiddler crabs, the hippopotamus-like dugongs, the “noseless” Irrawaddy river dolphins, and the spotted epaulette sharks (more catfish than shark with their floppy body, whiskers, and paddle fins). The Great Barrier Reefs holds swarms of sporting fish like tuna, snapper, barramudi cod, Spanish mackerel, the giant black marlin, as well as the most beautiful of “sea aquarium” delights like the intensely scarlet coral snapper, the distinct surgeon fish, the glowing rainbow-hued wrasse. At the Great Barrier Reef dwell prehistoric-looking creatures like the giant plankton-eating whale shark, the giant tiger-striped, tentacled Sepia cuttlefish, and the Queensland grouper, the reef’s largest bony fish which can grow up to 8.9’ in length. Be approached by Minke whales which are as personable as the friendliest dolphin. Every diving fanatic makes the ocean pilgrimage to view the 1911 SS Yongala. Both marine life and humans find the hulls of this shipwreck irresistible!