25 September 2012 by Alex Stewart
If you're feeling brave, then take to the seas surrounding the UK and dive off Skomer Island in Pembrokeshire, the Isle of Man, Scapa Flow or the Scilly Islands. However, if the idea of a dry suit doesn't appeal, head instead to our recommended top dive sites around the world, whether you're looking to swim in an aquarium, drop down an underwater wall, discover a wreck or search out a particular species.
Close and accessible, Malta is an excellent introduction to diving and a great place to learn the skills. More than that though, it has a number of superb wrecks to dive that include military vessels, passenger boats, planes and submarines, meaning there's something for people of all abilities and interests.
One of the world's legendary sites, the island of Palau Sipadan, is the place to sink below the waves in search of green and hawksbill turtles. Alternatively, try Barracuda Point to see swirling, churning groups of thousands of these fish. For a vertiginous thrill, visit the Drop Off, where, just a short walk form the shore the seabed plunges 600m.
Batu Bolong, off Komodo Island, is a vast underwater rock, with waters up to 70m deep surrounding it, meaning there's a wealth of sea life to see and a huge range of hard and soft corals to discover. Huge schools of fish include trevallies, tuna, wrasse and deeper down, sharks. Just off the shore of Bali lies the remains of the USS Liberty, which was sunk by a Japanese torpedo. The 130m-long vessel lies in shallow waters so is readily accessible if you're going in search of eels, surgeonfish and black tip sharks amongst other marine life. There's a beautiful coral garden close by as well.
Famous for whale shark sightings, Richelieu Rock in the Andaman Sea, reached from Phuket or Khao Lak is Thailand's top dive site. As well as these massive sharks, there are large shoals of barracuda, trevallies and tuna as well as much smaller critters including sea horses, shrimps, crabs and nudibranchs.
Head out to sea from Townsville in Queensland in search of the wreck of the SS Yongala, a 110m steamer sunk in 1911 with no recorded survivors. Only found in 1958, the vessel is now home to a variety of marine life, including rays, sharks, eels and a wide variety of fish. Alternatively, head to North Horn on the Great Barrier Reef on a live-aboard boat to see grey, silvertip, hammerhead and tiger sharks as well as good-sized pelagic fish.
Home to some of the most fertile waters in the world, the Bismarck Sea surrounding New Britain Island is home to coral and sponges, lobsters, sea slugs and sea horses. Walk into the water from Kimbe Bay and look out for the 800 marine species recorded in this area.
Chuuk Lagoon in Micronesia boasts rich and colourful coral but divers are drawn to this 45-mile wide lagoon for the wrecks lying on the seabed here. Chuuk was a Japanese naval base during World War II and a number of ships and planes were sunk during US attacks in 1944. Popular sites include the Fujikawa Maru, which still has intact planes in its hold, and the Shinkoku Maru, now crusted with corals and sponges.
Head to the southernmost tip of the Sinai Peninsula to explore the 20 dive sites of the Ras Mohammed National Park, many of which are considered to be the best in the Red Sea. There is masses of sea life at Yolanda Reef and Shark Reef, with a sizeable shipwreck and a vertical wall the central attractions at each respectively.
Famed for its safaris and Big Five game viewing, South Africa is also famous for cage diving; operators use bait to lure great white sharks to boats off Gansbaai, close to Hermanus. 6m-long sharks then arrive to feed and circle petrified divers, occasionally testing the strength of the cage bars to send heart rates racing.
Off the Kona coast of Big Island divers congregate at night to shine lights into the water to attract plankton, which in turn attract giant manta rays. Sightings are unreliable but a dark dive with up to a dozen of these creatures is an experience not to be missed.
The island of Cozumel, off the Mayan Coast boasts exceptional drift dives along the Santa Rosa Wall. This expansive reef is covered in corals, sea fans, sponges, whilst a wealth of fish hide and forage in the niches and caves that mark its surface
The giant sinkhole of the Great Blue Hole is about 400m wide and around 145m deep, fringed with reef. Although there aren't many fish present, the appeal is to dive the mighty marine stalactites, some up to 15m tall, which can be seen from about 40m down.
Some 400 miles off the Costa Rica coast lies Cocos Island, setting for some of the film Jurassic Park and home to huge shoals of hammerhead shark. Stay on a live-aboard dive boat and head below the water to look for these fabulous, fantastical sharks, who are often joined by white-tip reef and whale sharks as well as tuna, jacks and some 20 endemic species.