Wildlife travel: Best underwater experiences

Throw yourself into a totally alien environment to enjoy the wonders of some of the world’s finest underwater wildlife.

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BBC Wildlife magazine travel supplement, March 2014.

Throw yourself into a totally alien environment to enjoy the wonders of some of the world’s finest underwater wildlife.

Cayman Islands

While the Cayman Islands are renowned as a great place to secrete money of dubious origin – thanks, John Grisham – for those in the know, they’re simply one of the finest diving locations in the world.

Not only that, but they’re fantastic for people who don’t dive, too – snorkellers can fin lazily over unspoiled reefs feasting their eyes on huge, prehistoric-looking queen conch shells, clownfish and, in more open waters, green and hawksbill turtles.

A visit to the world-famous Stingray City (attracted by bait, they gather on a sandbar in huge numbers) is essential, as is a trip to the booby roost on Little Cayman – if you can face getting out of the water for half a day.

 

The Maldives

A number of locations around the world are gaining a reputation as great places to see manta rays, the flying barndoors of the underwater realm, but nowhere probably has quite the cachet and allure of the Maldives.

Conservationists estimate that there are some 5,000 resident manta rays in the islands, though they migrate between the country’s 26 different atolls as they follow their planktonic food source.

According to the Manta Trust, at Hanifaru Bay on Baa Atoll you can find 100 individuals feeding in the waters, along with several whale sharks.

 

Mafia Island, Tanzania

An unheralded part of the Zanzibar chain, Mafia Island is now becoming better known as one of the world’s top spots for snorkelling and diving (though it still has fewer than 1,000 visitors a year).

Whale sharks – those gentle giants of the elasmobranch family – are the star attraction, but even an amateur and casual snorkeller can have electrifying close encounters with lumbering potato groupers or dainty clownfish.

Above the surface the sight of thousands of fruit bats heading off to feed as the sun sinks sets up a perfect end to the day.

For those with a penchant for the truly unusual, on Juani Island off Mafia’s south-east tip there’s a saltwater lake where you can swim with thousands of non-stinging, upside-down jellyfish.

 

Great Barrier Reef, Australia

A UNESCO World Heritage Site and the world’s largest living organism, the Great Barrier Reef is one of the richest ecosystems on the planet.

Sitting off the Queensland coast, the reef supports an amazing array of colourful corals, sponges and anemones as well as approximately 1,500 species of marine fish, 6 species of turtle and 30 species of whale and dolphin.

From tiny gobies and colourful clownfish, pufferfish and angelfish to larger hammerhead and tiger sharks and manta rays, seeing the Great Barrier Reef is an essential experience for any wildlife watcher.

 

Discover 44 more amazing wildlife destinations in the March 2014 issue

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