As of the time of writing, around 80% of the earth’s oceans have been explored. We actually know more about the surface of Mars and the Moon than we do large segments of our own planet. Indeed the sea can often be just as alien and mysterious as any extra-terrestrial body and it’s for this reason diving is such a popular activity – it opens up an entire world waiting to be discovered.
Of all environments the most popular for aquatic adventuring is undoubtedly the coral reef. Huge, colourful, teeming with life, a single reef can be home to an entire biome of marine creatures. However coral reefs are also incredible fragile and so care has to be exercised when choosing which reefs to visit.
Why Visit a Reef?
It’s easy to think of a reef as being something like a geographic feature, but in truth reefs are gigantic organisms in their own right. Short of being like a mountain range or cluster of rocks, it’s more accurate to think of a coral reef as being like a huge underwater forest. Much like the trees of the Amazon or British Columbia provide food, shelter and resources for the creatures within, so too do coral reefs for the countless species that live in and around it.
The reef itself is essentially a large shell or skeleton formed by coral polyps, consisting of calcium carbonate and other elements. As colonies of coral establish themselves around islands and atolls, where the shallow waters allow them plenty of access to light and nutrients, they gradually grow in size until they can cover miles of seabed.
The Great Barrier Reef off the coast of Australia formed some 20,000 years ago when the sea levels were much lower, and the continent extended much further north and east. As the Ice Ages ended and the great ice sheets that covered the northern and southern hemispheres melted, the sea levels gradually rose. Former plains and hills became small islands and shallows, and around these the primordial reef formed. When these islands eventually became submerged entirely, the Great Barrier Reef grew around them until it reached its current extent.
Coral reefs form a perfect environment for marine life of all kinds, from anemone to great fish. Their nooks and crannies provide ample hiding spaces and shelters for marine life, while many others have formed mutual relationships with the coral. The coral provides nutrients and shelter, while surrounding life help keep the coral healthy and strong.
For divers there are few environments more rewarding to explore. You can spend a whole day exploring one patch of reef and still come back to find something new.
While care must be taken to ensure that such ventures don’t disturb the coral – it’s easy to kill chunks of it by kicking sand over coral and suffocating it for example – there’s a wealth of exciting species to discover, sights to remember and new patches of ocean to explore.
Best Reef Hotels
If a reef is your main reason for travelling this year, it makes sense to ensure that you stay somewhere that offers easy access to it. While a hotel is a hotel is a hotel, true divers recognise that the accommodation is just as important as any other part of the trip – if you can find a hotel that not only offers immediate access to the best diving spots but supports divers in other ways too, it makes the experience all the more memorable.
So with this in mind, here are some of the best hotels you can find for exploring the world’s coral reefs.
Kewarra Beach Resort and Spa (Queensland)
The Great Barrier Reef is one of the most famous stretches of coral on the planet, covering hundreds of miles across the Eastern Australian seabed. The Kewarra Beach, perfectly located on the coast of Queensland, Australia, is one of the hottest locations to explore this massive biodiverse wonder.
Situated across 33 acres, guests stay in private luxury bungalows surrounded by beautiful tropical environs. The hotel also provides exclusive diving tours of the Great Barrier Reef, as well as the surrounding coast.
Huracan Diving Lodge (Belize)
The balmy Mexican Gulf features its own impressive spots for diving, whether its sunken Spanish galleys or dazzling stretches of coral. With warm waters, diverse marine life and extremely affordable prices in the region, it’s a hugely underappreciated region for divers.
The Huracan Diving Lodge in Belize prides itself not only on its high quality of service and French-inspired nautical theme, but its proximity to Belize’s best diving spots. With guided scuba diving and snorkelling tours, as well as luxurious Central American mangrove trails and beaches, it’s a little delightful slice of the Gulf.
Munjoh Ocean Resort (Andaman Islands)
Advertising itself as “Your own private island”, the Munjoh Ocean Resort in the Andaman Islands has everything a tropical diver could ask for. Sandy white beaches, beautiful blue oceans, and some of the finest reefs in the Indian Ocean.
Offering first class diving equipment and tours, the Munjoh Ocean Resort will take its guests on extensive tours of its colourful reefs scattered about the islands. The tours are varied depending on personal experience, whether you’re a veteran diver or a timid beginner. The Resort will have a tour lined up and ready for you.
Reveries Diving Village (Maldives)
On the other side of the Indian Ocean, the Reveries Diving Village on Laamu Atoll is a multi-award winning resort in the pristine reaches of the Maldives. It provides access to the finest coral reefs in the Maldives, as well as its own luxuries and amenities found on the resort itself.
The Resort has its own private beach outside the hotel with quick and easy access to the water. As well as more languid corals perfect for those still getting their feet wet with beginners’ diving, to the north more challenging and exciting current diving is available for those looking for something truly adventurous.
Wadi Lahami Village Red Sea Diving Safari (Egypt/Red Sea)
In Egypt’s own “deep south”, the Wadi Lahami Village is a village tucked away on the edges of the Red Sea coast that’s almost completely empty. It provides a truly private and exclusive area for diving enthusiasts to enjoy the treasures of the Red Sea, which offers its own unique underwater scenery for those willing to explore it.
The shoals and corals in this section of the Red Sea are among the best preserved, while mangroves to the north also provide a chance to glimpse many of Egypt’s shore and wading birds, from heron to ibis to even the odd pink flamingo. Their diving programme covers no less than sixty underwater sites, with packages catering to all skill and experience levels.
Lockdown is easing and international travel could be opening up soon – where are you planning your next underwater sightseeing experience?