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Few travel experiences hold the awe-inspiring mystique as exploring the world’s coral reefs. Not only are coral reefs colorful and beautiful, but they’re also one of the most diverse ecosystems on the planet. These underwater structures are made from calcium carbonate secreted by marine invertebrates and typically grow between 0.3 and 10 centimeters per year. Depending on the species of coral, coral reefs take on shapes that look like fans, tubes, and brains.
Although coral reefs can only grow in certain environmental conditions, there are stunning reefs growing all over the world. These are some of the most amazing coral reefs that make warm tropical waters even more enticing to explore.
The Great Barrier Reef, Australia
It only makes sense to start with the largest coral reef in the world, the Great Barrier Reef. This reef and top destination in Australia extends nearly 2,000 kilometers along the coast of Queensland and was added as a World Heritage area in 1981. It is one of the seven wonders of the natural world and the only living thing on earth visible from space. You can view abundant marine life and habitats around this massive reef, which is actually composed of over 2,900 individual reefs. Tourism is a huge part of the local economy, bringing in over $3 million per year.
Mayan Riviera, Caribbean
The Mexican Caribbean is a popular place to view coral reefs while SCUBA diving. This ancient Great Mayan Barrier is the second largest coral reef in the world. This reef’s northern tip is located off the eastern coast of the Yucatan Peninsula and extends 197 miles south, past Cancun and along the coasts of Belize and Honduras. There are over 100 types of hard coral and 600 species of fish living in these warm, clear, and inviting waters. Scientists and conservationists are concerned because the proportion of surface covered by live coral in the Caribbean has declined by about 18 percent since the 1970s.
Red Sea Coral Reef, Red Sea
The Red Sea Coral Reef stretches along the coastlines of Egypt, Eritrea, Saudi Arabia, and Sudan. Reefs grow along over 1,200 miles of coast and provide homes for over 1,100 species of fish. Flanked by the Sahara and the Arabian Deserts, this reef thrives near one of the hottest and driest regions on earth. Unlike many of the world’s fragile coral ecosystems, the Red Sea Coral Reef is among the most resilient.
Andros Barrier Reef, Bahamas
The Andros Barrier Reef is one of the longest barrier reefs in the world, extending 124 miles long and situated a couple of miles off the coast of Andros Island in the Bahamas. With huge vertical cliff drops, mangrove areas, and deep ocean trenches, this is a very popular diving destination. Large marine life, including tiger sharks, octopus, and barracuda call this reef home.
Tubbataha Reef, Philippines
Tubbataha Reef National Marine Park is a 24-acre preservation site and underwater nature sanctuary. The park is made up of two reefs: the North Reef is 4-5 kilometers wide and the South Reef is 1-2 kilometers wide. Visitors don’t even have to put on a diving suit to see the North Reef at times because it is shallow and remains partially uncovered at low tide.
Little Cayman, Cayman Islands
A top spot for snorkeling in the Caribbean, Little Cayman is full of underwater treasures. Bloody Bay and Jackson Point are known as some of the best dive spots in the Cayman Islands because of the colorful coral gardens and various types of tropical fish. In fact, there are around 50 unique dive sites in the area for underwater adventurers to explore. This reef has experienced a dramatic comeback in recent years as the coral has regained much of its original health.
Taveuni Rainbow Reef, Fiji
Taveuni, the third largest island in Fiji, is often called the “garden island” because of its colorful underwater life. The Rainbow Reef is famous for diving and snorkeling because of its luminescent coral structures. You can often encounter leopard sharks, eel, sharks, and barracudas in these waters. With soft, ice-colored coral and a slight current, the Great White Wall is also a popular dive site.
Raja Ampat Reef, Indonesia
Indonesia’s Raja Ampat Reef is considered one of the most diverse coral regions in the world. Over 500 coral species and 1,300 fish live in these waters off the coast of West Papua, Indonesia. Raja Ampat means “the four kings,” which represent the four islands in the area: Batanta, Misool, Salawati and Waigeo. One of the best snorkeling spots in Southeast Asia, this is a great place to observe manta rays, dugongs, walking sharks, and pygmy seahorses, and the area above the water’s surface is majestically beautiful too.
Belize Barrier Reef, Belize
Spanning 190 miles along the coast of Belize, the Belize Barrier Reef was made famous by legendary explorer, Jacques Cousteau, in 1971. Around 70 species of coral and 500 species of fish live in this region and snorkeling here is a top activity when visiting Belize. Unfortunately, this beautiful reef has suffered substantial damage from large ships and irresponsible tourists. In 2009, UNESCO named this reef on its list of World Heritage sites in danger of being destroyed.
Andaman Sea Reefs, India
The Andaman Sea is located on the edge of the Indian Ocean, and most reefs can be found near the Andaman and Nicobar Islands in India, the Mergui Archipelago in Myanmar, and the west coasts of Malaysia and Thailand. At least 200 coral species are thriving in this area and providing homes to around 400 species of tropical fish.