5 Easy snorkeling spots

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If the prophets of doom are right, global warming will kill off most of the world’s coral reefs in less than 50 years. Time, then, to experience the vivid colours and remarkable variety of marine life found just a metre or two beneath the ocean surface.

Yasawa Island  Fiji

Sadly, some of the world’s best reefs are remote or many kilometres out to sea, unpleasant and expensive to get to. But here are five delectable snorkelling sites you can get to from the beach, or with a very short boat trip.

Michaelmas Cay 

Michaelmas Cay, Great Barrier Reef, Queensland: About 39 kilometres off the Queensland coast just north of Cairns, Michaelmas Cay is alive with masses of birds swirling constantly overhead. Crested and sooty terns, noddies and frigatebirds will allow you to approach within a few metres. Immediately offshore in waist-deep water is a world of brilliantly coloured fish, giant clams, beche de mer and coral. Parrot fish glean algae from the coral, while schools of tiny silver fish twist and flash between the outcrops. Occasionally a sea turtle will tag alongside you. If you are a first-timer, try the guided snorkel tour led by a marine biologist.  Cruises leave from Cairns or Port Douglas.

Uepi Resort, Solomon Islands: Garish in their orange clown stripes, Nemo’s little cousins are just a few of the dozens of tropical fish species swimming around a pristine long reef just three metres off the resort’s main jetty.  Pulsating giant clams and the occasional reef shark provide a bit of heart-stopping but totally safe excitement.  The resort also runs boat trips to several bombies (huge coral mounds) 10 minutes away on the other side of the island.  The corals, both soft and hard, range from the deep mauve of the brain coral to the incandescent blues of the staghorn tips.  It’s vivid, alive and magical.  The resort itself is a delight, with very private bures, superb evening meals  and easy jungle walks nearby.

Riyadh Island, Maldives: Biyadoo has one of the finest house reefs in the Maldives, where the coral is fast recovering from a 1998 bleaching.  Mercifully spared destruction in the Boxing Day tsunami,  the reef’s abundance of fish and other marine life is astonishing; some of them even resemble a formal English garden, with sand pathways and riotous bursts of colour, all less than two metres below an utterly flat sea.  With such crystal clear water, the visibility is ideal even for photos with those little disposable waterproof cameras.  Below you is an endless variety of fish, turtles, rays and rather insouciant sharks. Biyadoo Resort is set in ten hectares of attractive palm-studded gardens, where natural primitive wilderness merges into snowy white beaches.

Yasawa Group, Fiji:  Getting there, on a luxury Blue Lagoon or Captain Cook cruise, is half the fun. It follows a breathtakingly beautiful cruising passage through hundreds of tropical volcanic islands and spectacular coral gardens.  We played ‘count the fish species’ here, and decided that the blue tangs and Moorish idols were the least shy and most appealing.  For those who want to stay in the Yasawas a while longer, the Wayalailai Ecohaven Resort is Fijian-owned and boasts a marvellous house reef.  If you’re judged to be the most dedicated snorkeler, the staff might just award you a souvenir shell.

Bonaire – Caribbean:  Tiger groupers and white-spotted filefish dart to and fro amongst ancient-looking cannon (not real, but from an old film set). Leaf corals and mountainous star corals shine vividly in the shallow and intensely clear water off this Dutch possession 100 kilometres from the coast of South America.  The lovely beaches  of Bise Morto and Webers Joy are on the protected northwest corner of the island, close to Washington National Park and handy to the circuit road.  The waist-deep waters of nearby Nukove Beach are justifiably famous for a dazzling forest of redlip blenny and yellow pencil staghorn corals, all graced by dozens of fish species in every colour of the rainbow. The nearby tiny island of Klein Bonaire is even more laid-back and pristine.