Seven Great Destinations for Photographing Coral
Dive these seven destinations to see the difference conservation and a lighter human footprint can make to a reef.
Known as the “Soft Coral Capital of the World,” Fiji is renowned for its rainbow-hued reefs and gin-clear waters. Hallmarks of Fiji diving are the nutrient-rich tidal currents that create ideal conditions for Fiji’s blooming soft coral wonderland teeming with fish. In 2020, a plan for a national network of marine protected areas was presented to the Ministry of Fisheries, bringing Fiji to the final steps of fulfilling the government’s commitment to protect 30 percent of the nation’s oceans, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature.
A diver explores a colossal coral formation in the Solomon Islands.
With nearly 1,000 islands, the Solomons are a large archipelago known for World War II history and pristine dive sites, stunning corals and marine biodiversity. Best seen via liveaboard, these picturesque islands are a photographer’s dream, with no shortage of subjects, including lush coral forests, large sea fans, swim-through caverns, world-class wrecks, and a diversity of fish. With its isolated location, small human population and hardly any other boats in sight, these unspoiled islands are out of this world.
To the west of Raja Ampat but east of Bali lies Flores, usually dubbed the “Flores to Alor” itinerary on liveaboards. Not as well-known as Raja, this hidden gem holds many surprises for divers, both above and below. Originally known as a macro heaven with numerous world-renowned muck sites, this route now also includes first-class wide-angle sites such as Watu Balu, which rivals any of Raja’s dive sites. Flores also features several volcanoes, making the topside scenery superb. Like Raja, Flores is remote and removed from human interference and thus exemplifies a healthy ecosystem.
Papua New Guinea
As one of the most culturally diverse countries in the world, this off-the-beaten-track destination holds many treasures. Its rich culture is matched by its pristine coral reefs, lush mangroves, thriving sea life and spectacular macro. PNG can be visited via liveaboard or by staying at one of its beautiful dive resorts. The diving here is so varied that you may have a hard time deciding which way to look while underwater. PNG is a rapidly changing country, so its rainforests and marine ecosystems are at risk without additional conservation efforts.
Raja Ampat, Indonesia
Raja Ampat is home to countless vibrant reefscapes teeming with life.
The idyllic archipelago of Raja Ampat, or the “Four Kings,” forms part of the Coral Triangle and is the world’s epicenter of marine biodiversity. With quite possibly the richest reef system on Earth, it should be on every diver’s bucket list. This underwater paradise features infinite soft and hard corals, massive shoals of sardines, a plethora of larger fish, manta rays, wobbegong sharks and unique macro life. Between dives, visitors can snorkel stunning mangroves, hike up Mount Pindito or take a swim in Raja’s own “jellyfish lake.” Because Raja Ampat is largely undisturbed, biodiversity thrives in its waters and jungles, serving as a good example of how the ocean can look if we allow it to reach its inherent potential.
Apo Island, Philippines
A green sea turtle settles into a soft coral blanket at Apo Island, Philippines.
Apo Island lies off the coast of Dauin near Dumaguete and is easily accessed by boat as a day trip from one of the land-based resorts in the area. Even though it is famous for its muck diving off the main coast, the island first attracted tourists who came to the area to see its numerous turtles. Today, both divers and snorkelers can enjoy this paradise, watching sea turtles among myriad healthy corals. In 1985, Apo Island was declared a marine sanctuary by the community living on the island; their successful community-based sanctuary led the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago to model an exhibit after the island.
Jardines de la Reina (Gardens of the Queen), Cuba
Cuba’s legendary Jardines de la Reina has been a strictly protected marine preserve since 1996. It may also be one of the richest reef systems of the entire Caribbean, with stunning coral gardens that include rare elkhorn coral and thriving marine life such as giant grouper, swarming fish, crocodiles and a flourishing shark population, an inspiring example of successful marine ecosystem conservation.