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Dive In

Racoon-butterflyfish and diver.Racoon-butterflyfish and diver. Image: Getty

From Red Sea wreck diving to photographing fish off Bonaire, there’s a vast array of dives on offer around the world, says Alex Coxon

With 97% of our planet ocean, it’s hardly surprising mankind is fascinated by the sea. Aquatic flora and fauna, in combination with wrecks and caves, encourage over a million divers to plunge into the blue every year. What was a niche market 40 years ago has grown into a multi-million-dollar industry.

Of course, not every diver has the same requirements. While some are focused on learning and others only want a few dives as part of an adventure break, many divers are now using specialist operators to book liveaboards: boat-based vacations enabling them to access remote sites and dive several times a day.

Ardent divers are also using these firms to plan itineraries that indulge a specific passion — be that reef, wreck, cave, ice, photography or deep, technical diving. There’s also an appetite to dive in less accessible and more unusual destinations. So while Cozumel in Mexico and Bonaire in the Dutch Antilles continue to be top sellers, recreational divers are also looking at trips to St Vincent, Dominica and even the Philippines.

Cindi LaRaia, owner and founder of California-based Dive Discovery Travel, for example, is seeing increasing interest in Indonesia, where new dive sites are opening up all the time.

Whatever your client interest — be it nature, the deep, or the thrill of wrecks — there’s an astonishing number of dives around the globe.

EUROPE

We suggest: The Adriatic Sea

Why: Croatia’s Istria peninsula is home to 23 shipwrecks. The British WWII battleship Coriolanus will suit beginners; technical divers will enjoy the challenge of the Italian destroyer Cesare Rossarol, sunk in WWI; while the Austrian passenger steamship the Baron Gautsch, is one of Croatia’s most picturesque wreck dives, best experienced in the summer.

Where else: For the quintessential Med dive, try Malta. It lacks natural reefs, but the archipelago’s underwater landscape is peppered with caves, chimneys and swim-throughs — the standout site is Gozo’s Blue Hole.

AFRICA

We suggest: The Red Sea

Why: This vast, 1,398-mile long inlet of the Indian Ocean is home to more than 1,200 species of fish, and 1,240 miles of reef. But what makes it special is the variety of diving, ranging from shoreline classes for rookies to challenging, adrenaline-charged drifts around Elphinstone Reef. Spot whale sharks, manta ray and hammerheads between late May and July.

Where else: Some 16 miles off mainland Tanzania, Zanzibar deserves its label as one of Africa’s most utopian dive sites. Currents can be strong, but experienced divers won’t fail to fall in love with its lush biodiversity.

ASIA

We suggest: Indonesia

Why: At the heart of the ‘coral triangle’, extending from the Philippines to the Timor Sea in the south, and east as far as the Solomon Islands, this archipelago of over 17,500 islands accounts for 17% of the world’s coral reef, and is a mecca for underwater naturalists and photographers. Raja Ampat, Komodo National Park and Bunaken Marine National Park are among the popular liveaboard destinations for experienced divers looking for colourful marine gardens. But with its high water temperatures and enviable shore-based dive resorts, especially in Bali, the islands are also great places to learn.

Where else: The Maldives isn’t just for honeymooners, it’s also one of the world’s best-loved dive destinations — whether for novices in the house reefs of the country’s top resorts, or out at sea on a liveaboard among the whale sharks, manta rays, hammerheads and schools of blacktail barracuda.

CARIBBEAN

We suggest: Bonaire

Why: When a destination’s license plates carry the slogan ‘divers paradise’, you can tell something special lies beneath the waves. Voted best overall diving destination in the Caribbean 2013 by Scuba Diving magazine, this year-round dive location has mass appeal, from beginners sampling one of the island’s 53 shore entry sites to photographers keen to shoot Bonaire National Marine Park’s 370 species of fish and 55 types of coral. For experienced divers, there are tech-dive centers and a profusion of deep-water sites. Favorites include the wreck of the Mairi Bhan, which sank in 1912.

Where else: Dominica may not be as well-known as the Cayman Islands, Bahamas or Turks & Caicos, but this up-and-coming diving destination offers pristine reefs and vast underwater canyons. There’s even a ‘Champagne’ site, where divers swim through bubbling waters created by geothermal vents.

SOUTH AMERICA

We suggest: Galapagos Islands

Why: For experienced divers, especially those wanting a South American liveaboard, the Galapagos are hard to beat. Situated 575 miles west of mainland Ecuador at the confluence of seven ocean currents, there’s a mindboggling array of life in the archipelago’s 51,000sq miles of marine reserve — more than 2,900 species, in fact. This rich biodiversity contains no fewer than 28 varieties of shark, with whale sharks and hammerheads common between September and November. And with other large marine species, like sea lions and fur seals, bottlenose dolphins, turtles, manta ray and humpback whales, it’s easy to see why naturalist divers are so captivated.

Where else: The archipelago of Fernando de Noronha, around 220 miles off the coast of Brazil, has justifiably earned its UNESCO Natural World Heritage Site status. The clarity of the water here is exceptional, while the volcanic topography and abundant marine life make this remote dive site one of South America’s best.

SAMPLES

Indonesia: Dive Discovery Travel offers an 11-night Indonesia dive trip from $6,325 per person, including accommodation on the Damai 1 or Damai 2, unlimited diving, full equipment, all meals, soft drinks, beer, laundry, massage, port and park fees, plus airport transfers. T: 415 444 5100. divediscovery.com

Dominica: Deep Blue Adventures has a seven-night Reef and Rainforest package at the Castle Comfort Dive Lodge, Dominica, from $1,260 per diver. The package, based on double occupancy, includes breakfasts, three days of boat dives, unlimited shore dives, sea kayaking, tours and hikes, taxes and airport transfers. T: 888 266 2209. deepblueadventures.com

Zanzibar: AfricanMecca Safaris & Tours offers a five-night dive holiday in Zanzibar from $1,299 per person. The package includes private transfers, two nights B&B at the Dhow Palace Hotel with an ocean water or pool refresher course and two dives, plus four dives and three nights half-board at Matemwe Beach Village. T: 866 527 4281. africanmeccasafaris.com

PUBLISHED IN THE SPRING 2014 ISSUE OF ASTAnetwork

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