Here are the best, most epic Caribbean coral reefs to add to your list of scuba diving adventures!
Did you know that the Caribbean is one of the best regions in the world for scuba diving and snorkeling? Some of the world’s biggest and most beautiful coral reefs are located there. That’s because the Caribbean Sea presents near-perfect conditions for coral to form: warm water, strong sunlight, and consistent warm temperatures year-round. In fact, coral grow twice as fast in direct sunlight.
There’s nothing like seeing colorful sea creatures up close and personal, and the waters surrounding the Caribbean islands let you see them with ease. You’ll be hard-pressed to find murky water in the Caribbean Sea– clear, turquoise-hued water is what this ocean is known for.
What is coral?
A common misconception about coral is that it’s just rocks, or fossils, or a kind of plant. In reality, coral is a marine animal. They often attach themselves to rocks or other objects underwater, such as shipwrecks. Living corals strain plankton from the sea water to feed, and often have a symbiotic relationship with algae.
The reason why they may look like rocks is because they create shells made of calcium carbonate. However, you should resist the temptation to touch them, because they are fragile creatures, made up of colonies of tiny organisms.
Where are the best Caribbean coral reefs located?
The Caribbean is a vast region. It encompasses the entire Caribbean Sea, from the North American mainland to the east of central America and the north of South America. All islands located within the Caribbean Sea, plus the countries bordering it, can be considered Caribbean countries.
The best coral reefs in the Caribbean are scattered throughout the region. Most are fringing reefs, which means they grow directly offshore. The largest coral reef is the Belize Barrier Reef, located along the east coast of the South American country of Belize.
The best Caribbean coral reefs
1. Belize Barrier Reef
As previously mentioned, the Belize Barrier Reef is the largest coral reef in the Caribbean. It is the largest intact reef system in the Northern Hemisphere. Designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1996, the reef is teeming with exotic marine fish and colorful coral. In fact, there about 56 known types of corals and 300 species of fish living there.
The Hol Chan Marine Reserve is an exceptionally exquisite section of the reef. However, you must visit Hol Chan accompanied by a guide, or as part of a guided tour. Nurse sharks, southern stingrays, and green turtles all frequent the waters of the Belize Barrier reef, so be prepared to have some rather large diving companions!
2. Klein Bonaire Reef
There is a tiny island located about half a mile from Bonaire, called Klein Bonaire. It is completely surrounded by a coral reef, which has been designated a protected marine park. Because the island is uninhabited, it has some of the best undisturbed reef in the Caribbean. However, large marine animals usually don’t frequent Klein Bonaire’s waters, except for sea turtles. You will most likely see plentiful coral, large schools of fish, and a variety of sea sponges while diving at the island’s various sites.
3. Devil’s Reef in Jamaica
Devil’s Reef is known for steep inclines, mysterious caves, and a large number of tunnels, crevices, and nooks. These features make it especially fun to explore. Thousands upon thousands of coral, sponges, and fish make Devil’s Reef their home, including barracudas, snappers, scorpion fish, and lettuce sea slugs.
The site is ideal for every diving level, thanks to its underwater ridge. Beginners can stay in the upper reaches closer to shore, while experienced divers can venture to slopes about 65 feet down. Only Advanced Open Water certified divers can explore the deepest areas, which drop down to about 130 feet.
4. Gardens of the Queen, Cuba
Some say that the Gardens of the Queen off the coast of Cuba is the best dive spot in all of the Caribbean, thanks to its wide variety of coral and fish. The area itself caught the eye of Christopher Columbus when he first sailed there, prompting him to name it Gardens of the Queen in honor of Queen Isabella of Spain.
Fidel Castro declared the Gardens a marine sanctuary in the 1990s, protecting it from commercial fishing and preserving the reefs, mangrove lagoons, and grass beds. Today, they are open for limited diving tourism.
5. Bloody Bay Wall, Little Cayman
Despite its macabre name, Bloody Bay Wall is a unique spot known for its giant underwater precipice. It is literally a wall covered in vibrant living coral that rises to 20 feet from the surface, and slopes downward for about a mile. Tunnels and canyons provide extra entertainment for adventurous divers.
In addition, this site has some of the clearest water of any reef, making it ideal for picture taking. Bloody Bay Wall is located off the northern shore of Little Cayman, a small island with only about 200 inhabitants.
6. Curaçao Underwater Marine Park
This protected marine park stretches for about 12 miles along the southern coast of Curacao. Accessible to both divers and snorkelers, the site includes a spectacular coral reef, exotic fish, and even a few sunken ships. The coral is especially healthy, thanks to the park’s protected status. Some say that you’ll see a different mini eco-system every 100 yards, thanks to the incredible variety of sea creatures that thrive there.
7. Palancar Reef, Cozumel, Mexico
Located on Mexico’s Caribbean coast in the Riviera Maya, Palancar Reef is often called the “underwater Garden of Eden”. This is thanks to its vibrantly-colored coral and sea sponges that resemble a beautiful blooming garden. Since the reef is about 80 feet deep, this site is normally recommended for diving and not for snorkeling.
8. Library Reef, Grand Turk
Grand Turk is known for a decidedly epic dive spot known as the Grand Turk Wall. The edge of the wall drops down about 7,000 feet! If that were above water, you definitely wouldn’t want to dive off the edge. But at Library Reef, you can go ahead and do so, if you don’t mind the eerie feeling of being suspended in mid-air (mid-water, that is).
Main image: Andros Barrier Reef. (Source: Unknown, Internet)
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