Coral reefs are enormous, naturally-occurring structures of astounding beauty. Vibrant, mysterious, and alive with aquatic creatures, they’re a popular tourist attraction. People flock to them and go scuba diving to get a closer look.
Beautiful though they are, did you know that coral reefs are actually skeletons of undersea creatures? Yes, you heard that right. Coral polyps are tiny jellyfish-like creatures, and they use limestone to build a tough skeleton that protects their bodies. When you have millions of these tiny skeletons in one place, you get a coral reef.
Here are 10 of the prettiest coral reefs on the planet.
10. The Great Barrier Reef
Located in Australian waters, this is not only the largest, but also the most well-known one. It has around three thousand individual reef systems in it, and is about the same size as Japan. In case you were wondering, yes, it can be seen from outer space. The reef is estimated to be up to two million years old. This stunning reef is located near the Australian state of Queensland, and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site as well as one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World. The reef attracts over two million visitors each year.
9. Belize Barrier Reef
This coral reef, too, is a world heritage site. It’s 190 miles long and occupies an area of 370 square miles. It has over a hundred different coral species, and around 500 species of fish. The Belize barrier reef is located off the coast of Belize, as close as a thousand feet in some places. It is a major tourist attraction, and attracts as many as half the 260,000 yearly visitors – who go scuba diving and snorkeling to see the colorful corals. Unfortunately, due to uncertain reasons, a large portion of the reef’s corals are damaged, and protection efforts are being initiated to reverse – or at least control the damage.
8. New Caledonia Barrier Reef
Located off the north-east coast of Australia, the New Caledonia barrier reef is named after its structure – which is roughly parallel to the seashore, and is separated from it by deep water. It’s the second-longest reef in the world, with a length of 930 miles. That’s half as long as Japan!
The reef has the world’s most diverse structure, with 146 different types of corals in it. In terms of coral and fish diversity, the New Caledonian barrier reef at least equals – and possibly surpasses – the Great Barrier Reef.
7. Fiji’s Rainbow Reef
This coral reef lies between two Fijian islands, and comprises 230 varieties of coral and almost 1200 fish species. The creatures found here are truly gorgeous, from the electric blue ribbon eels, to beautiful carpet anemones, majestic lionfish and stunning coral varieties such as the staghorn.
The Rainbow Reef is famous worldwide for The Great White Wall, a dive location considered by divers to be one of the best.
6. The Maldives Coral Reef
Made up of 1200 small islands and blessed with wonderful weather year-round, the Maldives have often been described as heavenly. From majestic manta rays to the adorable butterfly fish, the waters are teeming with fauna you can’t take your eyes off. Pretty though the fish are, they’re nothing compared to the corals. The cup corals, brain corals and whip corals are just a few of the wonderful varieties found in these islands.
The coral is threatened by warmer sea water and a couple of other factors, so conservation efforts are being put into action to protect this beautiful site and its lifeforms.
5. Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park
Located in the Phillippines, this reef is considered one of the best diving sites in the world. The reefs are pristine and colorful, with 360 species of coral in them, and 600 species of fish. In addition, they have sharks, dolphins, whales, and beautiful birds. On a list of must-visit coral reefs, the Tubbataha Reefs would definitely feature prominently.
The dive season at the reef extends from mid-March to mid-June, when the weather is mild and the seas are calm.
4. Red Sea Coral Reef
This reef is located in the Red Sea as the name suggests, off the coasts of Egypt, Israel and Saudi Arabia. The flora and fauna found here is unique, with ten percent of the creatures being found nowhere else in the world. The reef is estimated to be thousands of years old, and is home to 1200 different species.
This reef system includes the Dahab Blue Hole, which is one of the most popular and dangerous diving spots in the world. Locals estimate that in recent years, as many as 200 people have died there.
3. Florida Keys Reef
The Florida Keys reef is the only living barrier reef in North America. It’s 700 miles long, and houses 65 coral varieties and over 500 species of fish. You’ll find brain and star corals, which are named after their shape, at a depth of just five to six feet! Some other beautiful varieties include the ivory bush coral and the lettuce coral. Fish species such as the French angelfish, Blue and Queen parrotfish, goatfish, Queen triggerfish and many others can also be found here.
2. Coral Reefs in Lakshadweep
Situated in the Indian ocean, the Lakshadweep islands are surrounded by coral reefs of astounding beauty. While not among the largest, the corals here are colorful and make for a memorable diving experience. The pleasant weather, local birds, coconut trees, pristine sand, and the vibrant coral make for a truly winning combination.
Dive through the clear waters, swim amongst pretty fish, and get up and close with enormous turtles in this wonderful coral reef.
1. Hawaiian Coral Reef
Located near the US islands of Hawaii, this coral reef is home to many varieties of fish and other marine life forms. While the list of the varieties may not be long, they’re interesting all the same as almost a quarter of them are endemic to the islands. Whether the blue rice coral, rice coral or the finger coral, they’re all marvels of nature.
Did you know that one of the biggest threats to corals is suntan lotion? It protects your skin, but chemicals like oxybenzone which are found in most lotions can get absorbed by corals and lead to bleaching. Because of this, places like Hawaii have outright banned certain sunscreen ingredients.