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SCUBA DIVING

Oceans' ten

Two divers approach an enormous but peaceable shark while diving in South Africa

Two divers approach an enormous but peaceable shark while diving in South Africa

A diver

A diver

A look at the most spectacular dive sites around the world

What are the best diving destinations around the world? Well, Thailand no longer makes the cut but for scuba enthusiastics, here's a long-time diving writer' selection of the finest spots to explore below the waves:

An oasis in time - the Medas Islands (Mediterranean Sea, Spain).

Modern diving began here when pioneers like Jacques Cousteau explored this underwater world in the 1930s and '40s. It's easy to see the appeal of these islands off Spain's Costa Brava: clear blue water containing a wide variety of fish, octopuses and lobsters, red and yellow coral, seagrass meadows, caves and shipwrecks. (www.VisitEstartit.com).

Desert mountains meet coral reefs - South Sinai (Red Sea, Egypt).

Some of the finest diving waters in the world can be found off the Sinai Peninsula. The Ras Mohammed national park has a unique character, with barren desert mountains contrasting with colourful coral reefs offshore. At Shark Reef and

Jolanda Reef the steep reef walls fall away almost vertically to a depth of almost 750 metres. (http://en.Egypt.Travel/attraction/index/ras-mohammed-national-park).

Really hot - the Raja Ampat archipelago (Indo-Pacific, Indonesia).

In terms of bio-diversity the coral reefs of Raja Ampat are second to none. Nowhere can more species of fish (around 1,300) and coral types (around 550) be found. Many habitats are present in a small area -inshore and offshore reefs, shallow lagoons, deep cliffs and mangroves. Top spot: Cape Kri. (www.Papua-Diving.com).

Easy diving - Carriacou (Caribbean, Grenada).

On Carriacou, life moves slowly but at the Sister Rocks dive site it's all going on - underwater gardens of coral reefs and sponges, schools of violet fish, lobsters and sharks. And the sister island of Grenada offers one of the most impressive shipwrecks in the world, the 180-metre-long cruise ship Bianca C which sank in 1961 and lies in 16 metres of water. (www.GrenadaExplorer.com).

Everything extra large - British Columbia (Northern Pacific, Canada).

The best diving sites aren't all tropical - one of the best cold-water sites is off the coast of British Columbia in Canada. A strong tidal flow brings plenty of food and the kelp forests of the North American Pacific coast are unparalleled for global biodiversity. A top spot is Row and Be Damned, a steep wall near Quadra Island. (www.Best-Scuba-Diving-Vacations-In-British-Columbia.com).

Dramatic scenery - Norway (North Atlantic).

In Norway, the land of the fjords, the scenery is as stunning underwater as it is above. One exceptional dive is Saltstraumen near Bodo, location of what is considered the world's strongest tidal current. With a speed of up to 48 kilometres per hour more than 375 million cubic metres of water are pushed through a narrow strait every six hours. (www.Saltstraumen-DykkeCamp.no).

Sharks and billions of fish - South Africa (Indian Ocean).

Most of the dive sites off the South African coast are not for the faint-hearted, in particular the Protea Banks. Here you can see a wide variety of shark species, maybe even a great white. But that's not all: once a year there's the sardine run, the greatest fish swarm in the world, pursued by sharks, whales, seals, birds and tuna. (www.ProteaBanks.co.za).

The highlight - the Rangiroa Atoll (South Pacific, French Polynesia).

The barren coral islands of the Rangiroa Atoll offer nothing but sky and sea - the latter in abundance. The most famous dive site is the Tiputa Pass, a channel connecting a lagoon with the open sea. Here can be found grey reef sharks, hammer-heads, manta rays, dolphins, turtles and colourful fish in large shoals. (www.RaieMantaClub.com).

Darwin's Dream Islands - the Galapagos islands (Pacific, Ecuador).

The Galapagos, made famous by Charles Darwin's theory of natural selection, is rated by many as the nec plus ultra of the diving world.

As well as offering hammerhead, tiger and whale sharks, where else can you dive with sea lions, penguins and marine iguanas? (www.ScubaGalapagos.com).

Magical world under the ice (Southern Ocean, Antarctica).

Under the ice off the coast of Antarctica is a world that few get to see, a place of unique fauna unlike anything seen in other seas. Diving through a hole in the ice into the semi-darkness of the polar seas is an experience that will delight diving enthusiasts - despite water temperatures around freezing point. (www.Oceanwide-Expeditions.com, www.Waterproof.-Expeditions.com).


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