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An Unforgettable Dive: the Reef that Transformed Me

Science writer and coral lover Juli Berwald gushes about a thriving reef in Tela, Honduras that seems to defy science, logic and despair.


By Tiffany Duong | Published On September 13, 2023
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An Unforgettable Dive: the Reef that Transformed Me

Juli Berwald relaxes on a surface interval in Tela, Honduras–where the most beautiful reef she’s ever seen exists.

Heather Kuhlken

As scuba divers, we’re privileged to explore, enjoy and play beneath the surface — something the vast majority of people on the planet will never experience. While it’s hard to pick a favorite, each of us certainly has a dive we’ll never forget. Whether it’s crossing something off our scuba diving bucket list, making eye contact with a humpback whale, or simply enjoying a perfect day underwater with our favorite dive buddies – we love to share these dive stories with other aquaholics.

To celebrate the beauty, variety and joy that this sport brings, we’re sharing some truly unforgettable dives from around the world, as told by the divers who lived them first-hand. We hope you’ll enjoy them as much as we do!

Related Reading: How to Swim with Humpback Whales in Tonga

Juli Berwald explodes with excitement seeing so much healthy, thriving coral in Tela, Honduras.

Heather Kuhlken

Name: Juli Berwald

Certification: Certified in 1991 in Friday Harbor, Washington. It was a scientific diving certification, and I was freezing.

Current: Science writer and award-winning author best known for telling stories about the oft-overlooked majority: invertebrates.

Follow: @juliberwald

My ‘Must Have’ On Any Dive Trip

I tend to get cold, so I have learned to wear more suit than other people diving with me and not care when I’m adding more lead.

My Unforgettable Dive: Tela, Honduras

After my last book about coral reefs and what people around the world are doing to protect and restore them was published, I received an email through my website from a guy named Antal Borcsok who said, “You have to come to see my reef in Tela, Honduras! It’s so healthy you won’t believe it!” I was skeptical, knowing that so many reefs in the Caribbean have been suffering from bleaching and disease. And what’s more, this reef was situated just where you would never expect a healthy reef: near the outfall of a huge sediment-laden river and in the runoff of massive palm-oil plantations.

Author Juli Berwald usually writes about invertebrates like jellyfish and coral.

Manny Pandya

But Antal was persistent and sent some stunning photos. My husband and I decided, why not check it out? So, in July 2022, we flew to San Pedro Sula, Honduras, and Antal and his wife Alejandra Thompson picked us up at the airport. We drove a couple of hours out of an industrial area and down a highway where burros still pulled carts. Tela is a small beach town where Antal runs a dive shop as well as an aquarium called Tela Marine.

The next day, when we set off on a dive boat, the water was blue with a tinge of green, not the clear azure waters typical of the Caribbean. Not the typical habitat for coral. But when we stopped at the dive site and tied off to a mooring, I could see the light colors that suggested coral heads about forty feet down.

Related Reading: An Unforgettable Dive: A Cry for Corals

We flipped off the boat and followed the mooring rope down to an unbelievably lush garden of healthy coral. Everywhere I looked was the kind of health, diversity and complex architecture that I fell in love with on coral reefs. There were fields of carpet corals, massive house-sized colonies of mountainous star coral, and later, in a nearby spot, jungles of elkhorn corals–all of which are on the critically endangered species list.

Juli Berwald was appointed the Embajadora del Arrecife de Tela–the Ambassador of the Reef of Tela–on her second visit to the magical reef.

Juli Berwald

I felt my heart lift at the richness of our seas. It was as if I were seeing either into the past when the Caribbean coral was flourishing or into the future when recovery has already happened. I didn’t care that much at the moment because I just wanted to keep exploring the beauty and life all around me. That reef transformed me.

Now, up here on land, that reef continues to drive my curiosity. I visited Tela again in May of this year and was named the Embajadora del Arrecife de Tela–the Ambassador of the Reef of Tela. I take this honor very seriously and am currently in the process of creating a non-profit to help support scientific inquiry that might answer some of the key questions about Tela to help get at its great mystery: why are its coral reefs thriving?