Forget about your preconceived notions about reefs, well, especially if your point of reference is that scary flick, The Reef. Did you see that? It’s about a great white shark… yeah, you get the picture. Well, squash those creepy thoughts. After we give you all the deets about the best reefs to visit around the world, you’re going to be an eager adventurer willing to plunge into the depths of these astonishing atolls.
Raja Ampat, Indonesia
The History: When Raja Ampat’s first in-depth underwater survey was carried out in 2001, divers logged around 1,000 species of tropical fish. The full extent of the reef’s biodiversity in Indonesia’s West Papua province is still being explored.
The Experience: 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, while underwater currents make it better suited for experienced scuba divers.
Wow Factor: Home to 75 percent of the world’s known coral species, this is one of the most diverse marine environments on the planet.
Great Barrier Reef, Australia
The History: Known to Aborigines and local islanders 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.
The Experience: Protected by marine park status, the world’s largest coral reef system stretches for more than 1,200 miles. It supports over 400 types of coral and 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.
Wow Factor: The Great Barrier Reef, the largest on Earth, is visible from space.
Belize Barrier Reef, Belize
The History: Described in 1842 by Charles Darwin as ‘the most remarkable’ in the West Indies, this series of reefs became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1996.
The Experience: Plunge in and explore the network of cayes, lagoons, mangrove forests and estuaries in the world’s second largest barrier reef while keeping your eyes peeled for manatees, sharks and marine crocodiles. With the clearest waters found in the north, San Pedro on Ambergris Caye is a popular hopping-off point.
Wow Factor: It’s here that you’ll find the Great Blue Hole – a stunning gigantic sinkhole – plus, sharks and crystalline waters.
North Emma Reef, Papua New Guinea
The History: Over several millennia, reefs like North and South Emma have encrusted the submerged mountains of Kimbe Bay. Thanks to their remoteness, these are some of the world’s most pristine dive sites.
The Experience: 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.
Wow Factor: The marine life that thrives here ranges from the pygmy seahorse to the sperm whale, and includes more than 900 different types of reef fish.
Rainbow Reef, Taveuni, Fiji
The History: Put on the map by Jacques Cousteau, it’s estimated that only 5 percent of this aptly named reef system has been explored.
The Experience: Sink beneath the surface and 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. One of the reef’s most famous dive destinations, the Great White Wall is blanketed in luminescent corals.
Wow Factor: For mind-blowing coral displays in a full spectrum of rainbow colors, go diving or snorkeling at slack tide, when the reef has been feeding for several hours.