For most novice divers, the otherworldly world beneath the surface of the sea is fantastical enough in its own right. No major bells or whistles are needed to make it more alluring.
The natural underwater attractions -- sherbet-hued coral, Skittles-colored fish, and the deep, unending void of blue -- are plenty. But as with any sport, the more you progress, see, and do, the more you want to push the envelope. So after you venture to the Great Barrier Reef and exhaust the Caribbean, what next?
Consider this article your roadmap. We've rounded up a dozen one-of-a-kind scuba sites around the world that turn diving stereotypes on their head. From a six-year-old underwater cemetery in Florida to an 8,000-year-old lost city in Japan; from the 100°F waters of Indonesia to the freezing Antarctic Ocean; with narwhals and the deepest sea-hole on earth in between, our roster of superlative dives will arm you with far more interesting answers to that age old question -- So, what'd ya see? -- than just, "fish."
Creating best-of lists is always daunting, but this countdown was especially intimidating, for few groups are more passionate than divers. Given the specialty training, travel, and equipment involved, it's no wonder. You can't just pick up the sport on an afternoon whim, after all. Courses and certification are needed first, and those small-group educational settings, it seems, foster a sense of community within scuba diving that few other sports enjoy.
Are you passionate about an incredible dive spot that's not on this list? Let us know in the comments.
-Andrea Minarcek, The Active Times
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In most cases, the term “shark diving” means cowering in a fenced-in, submerged box surrounded by bloody bits of chum, with flashes of fin and gnashing teeth only occasionally visible through the murky red water. That somewhat violent experience is a world away from what’s offered at SharkSchool, an immersive course led by one of the leading shark researchers in the world. Erich Ritter, Ph.D., hosts small groups of divers for multi-day field studies in Grand Cay, Bahamas, home to black-tip, Caribbean reef, lemon, nurse, and bull sharks. The goal of SharkSchool is to introduce people to as many types of sharks as possible, with multiple snorkel and scuba outings each day. You’ll walk away with plenty of bragging rights of photo ops—but also a better understanding and appreciation for the animals. Photo Credit: sharkschool.com Click Here to see more of the Most Amazing Scuba Dives on the Planet
The appropriately named Great Blue Hole in Belize was made famous by Jacques-Yves Cousteau in the early 1970’s, when he first visited the oddity and deemed it one of the ten best scuba sites in the world. (And he would know, right?) The GBH, found 43 miles off the coast of Belize City, measures an astounding 985 feet wide and 410 feet deep, and its symmetrical shape is as neatly circular as a suburban swimming pool. In fact, it’s not a hole at all, but a submerged network of caves that was flooded when the world’s sea levels started rising some 150,000 years ago. Today divers come to go underwater spelunking, plumbing the limestone formations’ depths alongside giant groupers, nurse sharks, reef sharks and more. Belize Diving Services specializes in excursions to the GBH. Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons/U.S. Geological Survey
Just a few miles off the coast of Kailua Kona, on Hawaii’s Big Island, an industrious group of divers strung up a series of lights on the ocean floor. Their soft glow attracts light-seeking plankton at night, which then draws large manta rays in to feed. Now, nighttime divers armed with high-powered headlamps can be treated to an eerie, surreal spectacle, when only the ghostly-white wings of the rays—many of which top out at 3,000 pounds, with 20-foot wingspans—are visible in the pitch-black Pacific. Kona Huna Divers leads night trips especially geared toward seeing the rays. Photo Credit: Bo Pardau/Second Wave Ocean Images, Kailua Kona, Hawaii
Deep in the Pacific waters surrounding the Yaeyama Island chain, off of Japan’s westernmost shores, lies a diving site fit for Indiana Jones and his ilk: an underwater pyramid structure said to be some 8,000 years old. Named after the closest-lying island, the Yonaguni Monument is made up of a 60-foot-high, 160-foot-long series of stone steps and terraces and a range of megaliths adorned with intricate carvings and, on one, a massive stone resembling a carved turtle statue. Rumors abound as to the monument’s origins: Is it the relic of a long-list civilization, a kind of sister city to Atlantis? The work of amphibious aliens? A freak geological phenomenon? For now, no one knows for sure. What’s certain is that Yonaguni is a one-of-a-kind spectacle, one that’s the exclusive domain of experienced divers (the ruins are located in open waters with strong currents). Reef Encounters leads outfitted trips from Okinawa to the wonder, for both English- and Japanese-speaking divers. Photo Credit: Facebook/Reef Encounters International
Enter caption for this slideYou might think the most extreme waters in the world would be devoid of all life, nothing but a freezing expanse of ice-pocked ocean, with the occasional penguin bobbing through. But in fact, once divers drill an entrance hole through the ten-foot-thick ice, they’re treated to bright yellow cactus and green globe sponges, starfish, sea urchin, jellyfish, sea anemone, colorful soft coral, and yes, even Emperor penguins. Divers can access this life-list experience at McMurdo Sound, a 35-mile-long bay alongside Ross Island, some 850 miles north of the South Pole. It’s close to the principal U.S. research station on the continent, and in fact, those lucky enough to dive here are often scientists. Divers also must be experienced using drysuits and willing to take on the 28°F waters. Photo Credit: © Flickr / Creativity+ Brook Peterson Photo Credit: © Flickr / Creativity+ Mykle Hoban
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