Life has arisen from the sea, but ironically, human life today poses a major threat to the waters of the sea. It is time we started taking cognizance of the harm we have inflicted upon ourselves by foolishly destroying our rivers and oceans, and take steps, however insignificant they may seem at the moment, to undo what has been done. But like marine biologist Sylvia Earle has said, “The ocean deserves our respect and care, but you have to know something before you can care about it.” With that thought in mind, eco-friendly adventurers have started to explore island reefs. Try snorkeling at any of the coral reefs around the world. The amazing spectrum of colors and shapes, and the sea life that moves around you, blissfully oblivious of your intrusion, will make you realize how minuscule mankind is, and yet how much havoc man has created in his own arrogance.
We have made a list of top 5 island reefs around the world that support eco-friendly snorkeling and scuba diving. We hope that while you enjoy the beauty of these reefs, you also take home the message of ecological preservation.
1. Bonaire Mar, Antilles
Bonaire prides itself on being one of the first diving locations that had waken up to the need of preserving the coral reef. Legislation to protect the coral reef was already on its way in Bonaire in the 1960s. During the 1970s they had already made spearfishing illegal and banned breaking coral from the reefs.
The Bonaire Marine Park has an area of 2700 hectares and encompasses the waterbody around Bonaire.
Bonaire has a fish population that has been voted as the most diverse in the Caribbean. Go to Bonaire if you can really curb your temptation to touch the coral reefs while you are diving, since they have very strict laws protecting the reefs and you will be fined heavily for a little mischief. If you are really sincere in your conservation efforts, then Bonaire is the best place for to enjoy the reef. These reefs are also found around Klein Bonaire. The reef terrace is as wide as 200m on the south and hence, divers prefer that spot. The reef terrace on the north is very narrow, about 20 feet, but is equally beautiful.
2. Raja Ampat, Indonesia
Raja Ampat (meaning four kings) is a group of islands, that lies on the northwestern tip of Indonesia's Papuan “Bird's Head Seascape”. It is listed here at the number two spot since it forms an integral part of the coral triangle- the world's most bio-diverse marine region. The coral triangle is home to six out of seven marine turtles, more than 3000 species of fish, and 75% of the world's coral reef. It is not for nothing that they call this place the 'Amazon of the Seas'.
From afar, these islands look like green mounds on a sea of inky blue - so colorful that a little child may have drawn it. And of course, the colors below do more justice than you may expect, to such a fantastic surface view.
This place is ideal for drift diving. As you see so many species of water life, as you drift along in the sea- the experience is no less than a dream come true. Barracudas, tuna fish, pigmy sea horses that swim around in style, and the sea-turtle- all of these darting about the splendid colors of the reef and the sea- create an experience that cannot be put down in words.
When you meet the tour guide, offer him some pinang (sweet betel nuts). This is considered a polite gesture and will help you get along with the guide. The happy guide may keep calling out 'Disni Bagus'. It means that you have arrived at the most fabulous diving site. You bet!
3. Andros Island, Bahamas
The Andros island is the largest and most thinly populated island of the Bahamas. Hence, anyone wanting to tour the Bahamas for its natural bounty, and yet be away from touristic spots would be wise to make a stop at Andros. But this is not the reason the island has bagged a place in our top 5. Andros has the world's thirld largest fringing barrier reef. Plus according to folklore, the blue waters are home to the mythical octopus Lusca. I have always loved a place that has a mythological story woven around its name, it imparts a certain character to the place. Andros also has the highest concentration of blue holes in the world. These blue holes are home to many cave fish and invertebrates, some of which are endemic to Andros. The blue holes are like a gateway to the cave system that runs under the island, and have attracted several divers over the years. In fact, you may get an idea of the blue holes of Andros by watching the video- 'Secret of the Sunken Caves'- by Jacques Cousteau.
Don't worry about missing out on all the fun happening on the rest of the Bahamian islands. Andros itself is greater in area than the remaining 700 islands.For lovers of national parks, we have some good news. The Andros Park System comprises five national parks and is the largest protected area in Bahamas.
Oh! And did I tell you that Andros is the bonefishing capital of the world?
As for divers, we have already said that Andros is home to the world's third largest barrier reef, and is home to 160 species of coral. You can dive in shallow waters, go treasure hunting in shipwrecks, swim around with fish inside the blue holes like a diver's version of 'Alice in Wonderland', or dive off the 6000 feet deep Tongue of the Ocean.
The Bahamas tourism has also come up with a unique effort to get tourists close to the Bahamian way of life, and the island of Andros is a part of the People- to- People Experience initiative, where a local ambassador takes you around the island, and you can experience the beauty and culture of the place from an aboriginal point of view.
To learn more about other destinations to visit in the Bahamas check out this article.
4. Mahe, Seychelles
The largest island of Seychelles, Mahe is a destination you cannot miss even if you want to, if you are planning a trip to Seyechelles. For one reason, the only international airport in Seychelles, located in Victoria, the capital of the country is in Mahe´. Mahe is home to 90% of the population of Seychelles, and is surrounded by tall granite peaks. The population is a mix of descendants of people who had come to settle in the island, from diverse geographies- Africa, India, China and Europe.
The flora here is fantastic. The magic starts even before you begin to explore the coral reefs in this place. Plants endemic to the cloud forests here are the carnivorous Seychelles Pitcher Plant, the Jellyfish tree and the Seychelles Vanilla Orchid. A jaunt into the forest will in no way, take you away from the comforts of civilization, as the entire island takes only about two and a half hours to tour. So no matter where your adventurous spirit takes you, your weary body can get back to a nice drink of Seybrew ( a local Seychelles drink) in no time.
There are a number of diving sites in Mahe but the most frequented ones are the Beau Vallon Reef and the Fisherman's Cove Reef.. The Beau vallon Reef is in the middle of the Beau Vallon Bay, an area very popular with tourists. The reef has some real hard coral, and Hawksbill turtles are a common sight. The Fisherman's Cove is close to the Beau Vallon Reef and an excellent diving spot for beginners. The reef shelves off gently here, and provides some great photo opportunity to photographers who are not too eager to enter the water. Then there is the Dredger Wreck, where perhaps the widest variety of marine life including Black Groupers and Red Snappers can be observed.
Explore a famous beach in Seychelles- the Anse Lazio
5. Rurutu, French Polynesia
How do you like the idea of diving underwater to watch a whale perform an opera? No, this is not my fertile imagination at play. This is in fact, the reality of scuba diving in Rurutu, a tiny yet exquisite island in the French polynesia, lying 572 km to the southwest of Tahiti.
Rurutu is blessed with geographical attributes that makes its waters an ideal breeding ground for the famous humpback whales. Unlike the deeper waters of the sea, the shallow waters of Rurutu do not pose any threat of predators. Moreover, in case signs of any storm are seen, the mother can drive her little offspring into the shelter of the lagoon around Rurutu.
Guided snorkeling in the waters of Rurutu can be an unforgettable experience if done between July and October, when the whales pass through Rurutu. The male sings in a baritone that resounds in the shallow depths of the waters of Rurutu as they strike the surrounding coral. His singing can go on for hours, or even days.
The geological history of Rurutu also make it very interesting. In the first phase, a submarine volcano emerged above sea level. A shield volcano slowly formed as a resut of alkali basalt flows. In the years that followed, coral reef developed all around the coastline, building a huge coral limestone unit.
The island is surrounded by steep cliffs interspersed by caves with beautiful stalactites and stalagmites.
These caves are a major tourist attraction, and Rurutu is also called the 'Troglodyte island'. (Troglodyte means a person who lives in a cave).
Other activities in Rurutu are horseback riding, hiking to the waterfalls, and enjoying picnic lunches in fields of sweet smelling wild 'miri' flowers.