Great Barrier Reef, Australia
1615 miles across, in the Coral Sea just off the coast of Queensland, the Great Barrier Reef is home to an immense 2900 smaller reefs and thousands of species of fish, corals and sponges. The reef runs almost parallel to the Queensland coast, starting on a level with Cape York and ending on a level with the town of Bundaberg. As well as these underwater creatures, the 900 small islands that are within the Great Barrier Reef also house many species of plants, land-dwelling animals and birds.
Formed around 25 million years ago, the Great Barrier Reef off the coast of Australia is the only structure visible from space that is 100% alive. Some of the hundreds of species of underwater animals found there use the Great Barrier Reef as their permanent home, but also as a place to migrate to and breed in (such as the humpback whale). There are several endangered species of clam, sea-cow and green sea turtle there, which is why it is such a protected area.
Today the great barrier reef is one of the seven wonders of the underwater and natural worlds, amongst other prestigious titles and its tourism industry is huge.
While the rock foundations that now support the Great Barrier Reef were formed as many as 65 million years ago, the waters were simply too cool to support coral growth until 24 million years ago. Even though corals did grow at this time, and during several periods afterwards, there were also a number of geological situations that meant the survival of any reefs was impossible. As a result, we can deduce that the reef that exists just off the coast of Australia’s Queensland today actually rests on a platform made from the reefs formed 18 thousand years previously.
The reef that we see, dive into and explore is actually only 1000 years old and considering it is so young, the rate at which global warming is affecting its growth is worrying for the future formation of this one of the seven wonders of the underwater world.
Why it Was Chosen:
Not only is the Great Barrier Reef one of the seven wonders of the underwater world, but it is also one of the seven wonders of the natural world and a UNESCO World Heritage Site as well!
CEDAM International, the American Diver’s Association which stands for Conservation, Education, Diving, Awareness and Marine Research) named the Great Barrier Reef as one of the seven wonders of the underwater world when it compiled the whole list in 1989. The seven wonders of the natural world were compiled much more recently in 2008.
Considering the Great Barrier Reef is the world’s largest reef, it would make no sense to have left it out of the seven wonders of the underwater world list. We can only hope that it being so well respected can help to conserve this natural wonder and keep it growing for many thousands, even millions of years to come.
How Can it Be Seen?
Visiting the Great Barrier Reef is incredibly, easy, considering it lies just off the coast of one of Australia’s most populous well developed states. The Great Barrier Reef is perhaps the only one of the seven wonders of the underwater world that has its very own airport (HTI/YBHM) making it very quick and easy to fly there directly.
Once you arrive at Great Barrier Reef Airport and check into your hotel or other accommodation you should head straight for the Great Barrier Reef marine park, where 1.6 million tourists visit every year for diving, snorkeling and boating excursions. The marine park is actually a conservation effort that will point you in the direction of diving schools that respect and help protect this natural wonder. As you can imagine, too much interference with the delicate marine life within the Great Barrier Reef can cause it to die.
The Great Barrier Reef is a huge yet diverse place for tourists to travel to. The activities that you will find here have made Queensland well known for not just diving and snorkeling but also other activities like surfing and canoeing. Spending a 7 day holiday vacation at a nice hotel that you booked in Queensland through Expedia is easy since they have great prices on rooms year round. Keep in mind that the seasons are different in the land down under. What this means to you is that December through February is their summer months.
Northern Red Sea
The Red Sea is a water inlet, located between Asia and Africa. The northern section of this inlet has been named as one of the seven wonders of the underwater world, namely because of its extreme beauty and the biodiversity of marine life there.
The Northern Red Sea consists of water from the Indian Ocean, yet because it is almost a lake and surrounded by sand, the climate here has changed to support a rich variety of life. The position of the sun at various times of year is what gave the red sea its namesake, as it turns the water all shades of red, orange and yellow. The Northern Red Sea also has a climate distinctly different to that of the southern end of this inlet, as there are two bands of monsoons that move over it.
The marine life living in the Northern Red Sea is a wonder in itself. Over 1000 different species of fish, 400 species of coral (both hard and soft) and also many birds above the water live there, giving anyone who visits an eye opening experience. Many divers, both beginners and professionals, choose the Northern Red Sea because of its tranquil, warm waters (it is a tropical sea) and of course the biodiversity.
The formation of the Red Sea (and thus also the Northern Red Sea) occurred over the course of many millions of years. It’s thought to have begun as many as 55 million years ago, speeding up slowly and ending at least 23 million years ago. This formation occurred due to plate tectonics and tectonic activity below the earth’s crust, causing the two continents of Arabia and Africa to split apart (as they were once one large continent).
Even today the formation of the Red Sea continues, and at some time in the future it will become an ocean, although not in our lifetimes. At one time in ancient history the entire Red Sea was closed off at its southern end. This doesn’t mean to say that it was a lake, though, as the position of the continents at that time meant that it was open at the northern end instead.
Why it Was Chosen:
Unlike some of the other underwater wonders such as the Galápagos Islands and Lake Baikal, the Northern Red Sea doesn’t only hold marine life that is endemic. There are plenty of species of plants, fish and corals living within it that also live in other oceans, but this only adds to the level of biodiversity here.
The main reason that CEDAM International, the American Diver’s Association (Conservation, Education, Diving, Awareness and Marine-Research) chose the Northern Red Sea for one of its seven wonders of the underwater world was its beauty. The water shimmers red and orange when the sun hits it at a certain angle, and diving and snorkeling there is said to be spectacular. Due to global warming the Northern Red Sea’s marine life could be in danger of dying out and therefore CEDAM chose it as an underwater wonder to further preserve it for future generations to enjoy.
How Can it Be Seen?
If you are planning to visit the Northern Red Sea then you should not dismiss the idea of diving, or at least snorkeling. The marine life here is spectacular, with vibrant colors, unusual species and an incredible energy. Once you arrive there you will find tour operators in the area quite easily who offer all kinds of excursions, from beginners diving, to canoing and snorkeling sessions.
Although the Northern Red Sea is an incredibly popular spot for diving, snorkeling and sailing, the surrounding lands are also very popular for Safaris and there are many tour operators offering this kind of excursion in Africa. Due to the Dahlak archipelago in the Northern Red sea, it’s also possible to rent luxury yachts and travel boats to do some island hopping and simply explore the region.
To get to the Northern Red Sea you can fly to Marsa Alam airport at the southern end of the Red Sea and travel up by train, coach, cruise boat or rented car. Alternatively, you can fly to Egypt (Hurghada airport) and you are already at the Northern Red Sea itself! Taking a cruise boat around the Red Sea from Hurghada is highly recommended as you will also get to see the Southern side.
Lake Baikal, Siberia
Located in Siberia (central Asia) some 445 meters above sea level, lies Lake Baikal; the world’s largest and deepest lake.
Due to its sheer size, Lake Baikal has an incredibly diverse set of climates, with deep-sea marine life existing on its floor and birds and mammals living off the marine life from its shore. The lake also changes dramatically throughout the year, spending January to May completely frozen, then unfreezing and becoming completely crystal clear for some of summer and then experiencing extreme algae blooms in the autumn months which turn the water murky and almost soup-like.
This lake is home to some of the world’s highest levels of biodiversity, with thousands of different species of fish and marine plants. Omul fish and Nerpa (Baikal Seal) are the most well known animals to be living in the lake and are also endemic, meaning they exist nowhere else in the world. This kind of biodiversity is put down to the lake’s large surface area and the ability for high levels of oxygen to be passed into the water to support life.
Lake Baikal is known as the ‘Sacred Lake’ and it comprises more water than the entire mass of all the lakes in Northern America combined.
Lake Baikal is believed by scientists throughout Earth to be at least 25 million years old and at the most 30 million years old (during the late Paleogene geological period). Although nobody can be entirely certain, it’s thought that Baikal began as a simple (yet comparatively large) river bed, joining a series of small lakes together and being fed by rivers coming from Mongolia and Zabaikalia.
Over those many millions of years these smaller lakes joined each other and Lake Baikal’s immense basin began to form. The movement of tectonic plates beneath the Earth’s surface is certainly believed to have influenced the shape of Lake Baikal’s mountainous areas and therefore probably the depth of Lake Baikal’s basin too. However, the natural folds of the earth are also thought to have made a difference and scientists and geologists across the world today still cannot agree on the exact way it formed.
Why it Was Chosen:
At present there are high levels of water mixed with waste products being pumped into lake Baikal, which is one of the main reasons that CEDAM International (the American Diver’s Association) chose it for one of their seven wonders of the underwater world. CEDAM (conservation, education, diving, awareness and marine-research) International began this project in 1989 with the aim to preserve and protect endangered areas of the world that needed conservation.
Lake Baikal is also very unique because the majority of the species that live within it are exclusive to the lake itself. These sponges, coral, plants and marine life do not exist anywhere else on the planet, and if they were to die then the world’s biodiversity would be severely affected.
UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) also chose Lake Baikal as one of its World Heritage sites, bringing more protection to the area.
How Can it Be Seen?
Lake Baikal has formed within a suburban area of Siberia and it’s therefore very easy to visit. It is a huge tourist draw for this area of Asia, and there are several ways to travel there, including via railway, air and rented vehicles. Nizhneangarsk Airport is located towards the northern tip of the lake and from there you can travel on the Baikal-Amur mainline railway service to the main focal points of the lake.
Alternatively, you can fly to Irkutsk Airport at the south of the lake. If you wish to explore the area of Asia surrounding lake Baikal first, then your best move is to take the Trans-Siberian Railway service which makes a main stop at the lake. Both Irkutsk and Nizhneangarsk have a number of hotels and places to eat and find entertainment because they have become the main tourist airports for the lake. Listvyanka, located in Irkutsk, is the ultimate tourist area with a seven story hotel.
Due to the climate in Siberia the lake is frozen for a large part of the year. If you travel there in July to October, however, then it’s often possible to take diving excursions in certain areas. Be warned though; the lake never really gets ‘warm’!
The Galápagos Islands are an archipelago within the Pacific Ocean, all thirteen (main islands) of which are deemed volcanic. This is perhaps not surprising due to their distribution around the tectonic plates below, and their proximity to the equator.
While it is believed that South American tribes first discovered the Galápagos Islands, their discovery wasn’t documented until 1535 when Bishop De Berlanga’s ship sailed off course (destined for Peru) and landed accidentally there. Several expeditions were made to the Galápagos Islands hence, but it wasn’t until the 1830s that the island became inhabited by man.
The Galápagos Islands gained their name from one of the species that lived on it; the Galápagos turtle that had already been named by Spanish explorers because of its strange shell shape. Many explorers after this time studied the animals that lived there, primarily because the species’ differed greatly from those found inland and on other continents. Charles Darwin visited the islands in 1835, where he studied the animals further and found that the species even different between the islands that make up this archipelago. His studies prompted the creation of his survival of the fittest theory and thus the backbone to The Origin of Species, published in 1859.
Scientists and geologists are still unsure of how exactly the Galápagos Islands were formed and when, although they do know that the proximity to the equator means that there is increased volcanic activity. Couple this with their specific location above active tectonic plates, it’s almost guaranteed that they were formed from volcanoes, and remain to be volcanic themselves.
The formation of each of the Galápagos Islands is only an estimation and due to studies on tectonic plate activity, scientists now know that the Islands cannot be older than 5 million years. The island also change formation all the time, with the latest specific change occurring in 1954 when the seabed was uplifted by 15 feet and a significant amount of magma was released through a fissure (hydrothermal vent), where it then cooled on the surface of the ocean.. Volcanoes on the islands themselves are also often erupting, with the latest in 1998.
Why it Was Chosen: 150 words on why CEDAM International (American diver’s association) chose it for one of the seven wonders
Even in 1835 when Charles Darwin explored the islands, significant damage to the wildlife there had occurred because inhabitants had brought other species to the island which were then killing off the existing ones. Tortoises were also taken by explorers to provide sustenance on their ships and many species were made extinct this way.
CEDAM International; the American Diving Association chose the Galápagos Islands to be one of their seven wonders of the underwater world because their aim for this project was to protect underwater structures that needed preserving. The Galápagos Islands may not be entirely underwater, but they were formed there and much of the volcanic activity that continues to form them occurs there. The prestige that Darwin also brought to the Islands is also brought to the Islands and the fact that they inspired him to write The Origin of Species also gives us more reason to want to protect this area of the world.
How Can they Be Seen?
Much of the recreation on the Galápagos Islands revolves around the exquisite wildlife that is found there, so if you’re a nature lover then it’s perfect. Be warned though, the islands are located on the equator, so when it’s hot, it’s hot!
The Galápagos Islands are home to the world’s only penguins that live on or around the equator and with certain tour operators you can swim alongside them. You may also visit the famous Galápagos turtles and tortoises that gave this archipelago its name, and also scuba dive with whales and dolphins around the islands.
If you plan to fly directly to the island then you will need to fly first to Quito airport and then make stops in Guayaquil and finally in Baltra. If you fly to Equador, however, then there are several cruise liners that offer very scenic and enjoyable boat tours to and around the islands. Once you arrive at the Galápagos Islands themselves, you’ll need to travel around them by boat, but there is a lot of choice here; from slow cruise boats to fast speedboats and luxury yachts. Unfortunately, tourists cannot visit all thirteen of the main Galápagos Islands as some of them are protected (they are a UNESCO World Heritage site after all!).
Deep Sea Vents, Yellowstone National Park
Also known as ‘Hydrothermal Vents’, the Deep Sea Vents are perhaps the only one of the seven wonders of the underwater world that exist in a number of places on earth. While they can also occur above sea level, deep sea vents are small volcano-like structures that pump out gases and heated water from beneath the earth’s crust.
Typically occurring on or near tectonic plates and volcanoes, these vents simply release energy (in the form of heat) from the friction caused below. Much of the chemicals they produce actually provide basic marine life with sustenance and in turn animals up the food chain receive better quality food.
The most well known group of deep sea vents lie in Yellowstone National Park, North-Western US, where there is significant geothermal activity both below and above sea level. Earth is not the only planet believed to have housed deep sea vents either, as the remains of some have been found on our own moon and Jupiter’s moon (Europa) is also believed to have them today. These vents are often known as ‘black smokers’ or ‘white smokers’ due to the color of the plume that they emit. The latter are generally cooler than black smokers, due simply to their mineral composition.
Because the existence of Deep Sea Vents remained unknown until at least 1949, it is not possible for them to have been man made; they are entirely natural. Existing as much as 8200 feet below the water’s surface, it is extremely difficult to even explore deep sea environments of this nature, let alone build structures of this kind here.
Deep sea vents were and continue to be formed during a period of significant geothermal or even volcanic activity. Some continue to grow during subsequent activity, but they also often break and fall down, as the ‘Godzilla’ vent in the Pacific Ocean did when it reached 40 feet.
The vents themselves are formed when cold water travels down through mid ocean ridges and heats up when it reaches the molten rock beneath. Here the oxygen is removed from the water and minerals and metal flow into it (e.g. sulfur and zinc), before it is pushed up again through the deep sea vents at extremely high temperatures.
Why it Was Chosen:
CEDAM International (the American Diver’s association) named the seven wonders of the underwater world in 1989 for one reason: to raise awareness of underwater structures, in order to preserve and protect them from damage. In the case of the Deep Sea Vents this may have been a clever prediction, considering it wasn’t until 2007 that scientists, geologists and marine experts released a report saying the vents would not be resilient to damage from global warming.
The Deep Sea vents were not only chosen because they were in danger of damage, but also because of the way that they support life under the sea in a fundamental way. When submerged underwater, these hydrothermal vents spew out huge levels of chemicals and minerals that fish, sponges, whales, sharks and corals depend on for their health. If they were to become damaged and stop providing this sustenance, we would find a huge decline in marine life and biodiversity in our oceans.
How Can it Be Seen?
Unfortunately it is not possible to visit the deep sea vents, unless you are a geological expert. This is entirely due to their depth, which can reach up to a mile and a half below sea level. These depths cause immense pressure that crushes the human body and thus exploration must be carried out in submarine equipment. It’s also extremely cold at these depths, so you would not want to stay down there for very long.
The good news is – some vents exist above sea level and one of the best places to see this kind of geothermal activity is at Yellowstone National Park; a 2,219 acre park that extends mainly through the US state of Wyoming, but also through Idaho and Montana. Here you can go hiking, skiing, camping, fishing and also take tours of the geysers, which erupt around 200 to 250 times every single year (giving you a good chance of seeing one on the day that you decide to go!). Don’t worry; although the water that erupts from these natural structures is very hot at first, it cools on impact with the air and so cannot burn you, but will simply get you wet.
Belize Barrier Reef, Belize
The Belize Barrier Reef belongs to the 900 kilometer long Mesoamerican Barrier Reef System in the Atlantic-Caribbean region, which stretches from Cancún to Honduras. The Belize Barrier Reef itself is the second largest barrier reef in the world, beaten only by the Great Barrier Reef off the coast of Queensland, Australia (also one of the seven wonders of the underwater world) and it is home to over known 500 species of reef fish and 86 species of soft and hard corals, although what has been discovered is said by experts to be only a small percentage of what is actually there.
This particular section of the Mesoamerican barrier reef is 300 kilometers long, and while it may not house the kind of biodiversity that the Palau Reefs exhibit, the Belize Barrier Reef was described by Charles Darwin as “the most remarkable reef in the West Indies”. Within this 300 kilometer stretch are over 200 small islands, 3 atolls (rings of coral that surround a lagoon of water) including the well known Great Blue Hole and also 450 cays (small raised islands of sand above reefs). It is this diversity in structure that allows the tourism industry to thrive at the Belize Barrier Reef.
The Belize Barrier Reef is a completely natural underwater structure, whose coral is thought to have been formed within the past 500,000 years. While this is relatively young for a barrier reef, the limestone rocks that the Belize Barrier Reef corals have grown upon may be anywhere from 2 to 135 million years old, and the atolls somewhere in between. Of course these dates are so far back into history that it’s impossible for marine biologists and geologists to give any specific dates.
Due largely to the discovery of stalactites in the underwater caves found in the Belize Barrier Reef, geologists have discovered that the Belize Barrier Reef was not created by volcanic activity (as many reefs are) but instead by the most recent glacial period instead. The formation of the Belize Barrier Reef has been entirely natural, although over the past forty years there has been a lot of damage done to the reef and wildlife that lives within.
Why it Was Chosen:
In 1989 CEDAM International (CEDAM = Conservation, Education, Diving, Awareness and Marine-Research) put together the seven wonders of the underwater world, comprising the structures and regions of the world that they deemed worthy of such a title. Due to the Belize Barrier Reef’s unusual structure, great beauty and need for conservation CEDAM added it to their list without question.
As well as being one of CEDAM’s seven wonders of the underwater world, the Belize Barrier Reef system located in Belize was also named as a World Heritage Site by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization in the mid 1990s. This only served to add to the barrier reef’s great prestige and there is no sign of this natural, underwater wonder losing any interest from scientists, marine biologists and geographical experts worldwide, not to mention the thousands of tourists that visit each and every year.
How Can it Be Seen?
At one time, Belize was central to the Mayan people and as a result this central American country is steeped in rich history and culture, as well as the tourism brought to it by the Belize Barrier Reef. As a result Belize is the perfect place to enjoy a holiday both on land and off, as you explore both the barrier reef system and the tropical forests.
Travel to the Ambergris Caye for scuba diving and snorkeling excursions, as this island is the closest land to the reef. From here you can also visit the esteemed Great Blue Hole, Shark Ray Alley, Lighthouse Reefs, Mexico Rocks and Hol Chan Marine Reserve.
Flying to Belize is simple from a number of US airports such as Houston, Dallas, Miami, Atlanta and Charlottesville, although from Europe it is a little harder. The nearest airport to the barrier reef is the Philip S W Goldson International Airport (BZE) around 11 miles away, where you can catch a taxi to the city center (no tipping). There are also several water taxis and major cruise lines that pass through Belize, so you can visit the nearby regions as well as Belize and its reef.
Palau Reefs, Palau
Over two million years ago in Micronesia (a subregion within Oceania) significant volcanic activity – now known as the Pacific Ring of Fire – occurred. From this the 343 islands that make up the island state of Palau were formed and the limestone rock basis for the Palau Reefs was in place. At this time, homo habilis inhabited the earth, but not the island of Palau and all that lived there were the basic coral species that had begun to grow on the submerged limestone.
Palau remained uninhabited until homo floresiensis evolved around 18,000 years ago, yet the first humans to lay eyes on the 300 species of sponges, 1500 species of fish and 550 species of hard and soft corals that live here were from Indonesia in c.2000BC. Since then, the island state of Palau has also been under Spanish, German, British, Japanese and American rule. At present Palau is an independent region, gaining a lot of tourism and notoriety due to its beautiful reefs.
If the reefs in Palau today were to be destroyed and returned back to smooth, limestone rocks they could not simply begin regrowing over the next decade. What lies there today is the result of millions of years of development, where corals have formed skeleton bases which the next generation of coral builds upon again.
The Palau Reefs are believed to have formed around 2 million years ago, long before the more developed species of the homo genus had evolved (I.e. homo sapiens, Neanderthals and homo erectus). They started very basically at first and gradually developing into the rich and biodiverse environment they are now. Due to this time frame these islands are all-natural; having had no intervention from man.
Life began in the form of basic corals, on a Palau Island limestone surface during the Pleistocene geological age. From then these corals separated into hard and soft species over two million years, with sponges and reef fish joining them at a much later stage. Quality versus quantity certainly applies to this one of the seven wonders of the underwater world, as Palau’s reefs are quite small compared to the Great Barrier Reef in Australia, but even still they are home to an incredibly diverse number of species; some critically endangered.
Why it Was Chosen:
It was the American Diver’s Association CEDAM International (CEDAM stands for conservation, education, diving, awareness and marine research) who nominated and chose the Palau Reefs for one of the seven wonders of the underwater world in 1989. CEDAM chose the wonders in accordance to their quality of marine life, and whether we should keep them well preserved as protected sites.
As the Palau Reefs in Micronesia are home to various endangered species (both plant and animal) and there has been a considerable level of coral bleaching over the past few decades, they have been identified as needing conservation. The fact that they also home thousands of different species of fish, 550 different species of hard and soft corals, plus 300 different species of sponges makes it the ideal candidate for one of CEDAM’s protected and very much revered seven wonders of the underwater world.
How Can it Be Seen?
One of Palau’s leading industries today is tourism, meaning that it’s incredibly easy to visit the region and many of the 343 islands that comprise it.
Getting to the Palau Islands usually means a bit of plane hopping, as there are daily flights from Guam’s airport and twice-weekly flights from Manilla, but also chartered flights from airports in Korea, Taipei, Taiwan, Tokyo, Osaka, Nagoya and Japan. The nearest airport outside of Palau is Guam, where flights take approximately 1 hour and 45 minutes. For this reason you may wish to put together an itinerary, where you stay in one of these countries for a couple of days before traveling to Palau.
Once you arrive in Palau there are plenty of tour operators offering diving excursions (daily) from Koror and you can see other attractions such as the jellyfish lake and even swim with dolphins. If diving is not your thing, or you’re bringing small children with you then there are snorkeling tours available, as well as placid canoe tours that allow you to see the reefs from the surface of the water, sailing charters and day trips to the Palau Aquarium at the Palau International Coral Reef Center.