The earth’s oceans are teeming with natural beauty and there’s no better way to appreciate it than to experience it up close. Whether you’re an experienced scuba diver or first-time snorkeler, these seven reefs are among the best in the world. From the Great Barrier Reef in Australia to those off the Florida Keys, these underwater ecosystems are bursting with color and life begging to be observed.
Paste Travel’s Bucket List columnist Lauren Kilberg is a Chicago-based freelance writer. Her travels have found her camping near the Pakistani border of India and conquering volcanoes in the Philippines.
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Dubbed the "Amazon of the Seas," the marine waters between the Philippines, Solomon Islands, Indonesia, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea and Timor-Leste are known as the Coral Triangle and contain an impressive 500 species or more of coral. Some of the best portions of the reef are found off the Indonesian archipelago of Alor, and there is no shortage of tour operators available for excursions.
Photo by USAID Asia, CC BY-NC 2.0
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Belize is considered one of the best snorkeling and scuba diving destinations in the world. Its famous Great Blue Hole, a perfectly circular and massive submarine sink hole, and the surrounding Lighthouse Reef rank high on any diver's list. The entire UNESCO World Heritage Belize Barrier Reef is 185-miles long and covers 237,962 acres.
Photo by John C Bullas BSc MSc PhD MCIHT MIAT, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
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As the world's largest coral reef system, one of the Seven Wonders of the Natural World and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, it should come as no surprise that Australia's Great Barrier Reef makes this list. More than 3,000 individual reefs spanning over 133,000 square miles off Queensland comprise the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park and surrounding areas. Scuba and snorkeling is possible in designated area, along with glass-bottom boat cruises and helicopter tours for those looking to appreciate the reef without getting wet.
Photo by FarbenfroheWunderwelt, CC BY-ND 2.0
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This Hawaiian atoll, part of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands Coral Reef Ecosystem Reserve and a designated National Monument, is the site of a 20-mile long crescent-shaped reef covering some 232,000 acres. More than 40 species of coral, 600 species of invertebrates and 150 species of algae call the reef home. The islands and the surrounding reef play host to nesting sea turtles, monk seals and nearly two dozen species of seabird among its thriving ecosystem. Visiting the area isn't as easy as some of the other reefs on this list, but it is possible with a permit.
Photo by NOAA's National Ocean Service Photostream, CC BY 2.0
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Snorkeling outposts and scuba schools abound across the tropical trinity that is Indonesia's Gili Islands. Shallow reefs and dive spots catering to all levels can be found around all three islands. Tours can guide you on offshore excursions where sea turtles, reef sharks and plenty of fish can be seen. For more laid back coral gazing, you can rent the necessary equipment from any of the many beachside vendors before wading out. Currents can be particularly strong between the islands, so exercise caution and be careful of strong currents.
Photo by Mikaku, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
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At 1,240-miles long, the Red Sea Coral Reef is the longest of its kind in Africa. It's home to more than 200 species of coral, 1,200 species of fish and 1,000 invertebrate species that thrive in the coastal reefs, as well as among the sea's offshore atolls. If you're looking to dive the Red Sea reefs, head to Egypt's Ras Mohammed National Park.
Photo by paul_a_williams,
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Home to the only living coral barrier reef in the continental U.S., the Florida Keys is a must-visit for those looking to appreciate a good reef without having to pay for a transatlantic or transpacific plane ticket. At four miles wide and some 200 or so miles long, the Great Florida Reef is one of the largest in the world. The area, which is compromised of more than 6,000 individual reefs, falls within a number of protected areas, including Biscayne National Park, John Pennekamp Coral Reef, Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary and Biscayne National Park.
Photo by SNORKELINGDIVES.COM, CC BY 2.0