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For scuba-divers, nothing can quite compare to Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, which is one of the seven natural wonders of the world. It’s home to more than 1,600 species of fish, about 600 types of hard and soft coral, 133 species of sharks and rays, 30 species of whales and dolphins, and six of the world’s seven species of threatened marine turtles. Keep a lookout for humphead Maori wrasse, giant clams, dugong and parrotfish. The 1,430-mile, colorful reef is the only living structure visible from space. Unfortunately, the reef has been extremely affected by coral bleaching, resulting in the loss of reportedly half of its coral. Still, the Great Barrier Reef remains stunning and mesmerizing, and eco-friendly tours are available.

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Ocean-lovers will be pleased to know that the largest known living fish, whale sharks, are safe for humans to be around. These docile sharks are filter-feeding, meaning they primarily eat plankton and small fish; they measure between 18 and 33 feet, weigh about 20 tons (40,000 pounds) and on average live to be 70 years old. 

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Made famous from Charles Darwin’s “On the Origin of Species,” the Galapagos Islands are an archipelago in the Pacific Ocean, off the coast of Ecuador, that’s well-known for its diverse and unique wildlife population. The 19 islands are home to a number of endemic species, meaning some animals are only found there; examples include the Galapagos giant tortoise, Galapagos penguin (the only penguin species found north of the equator), marine iguana, many types of finch and Galapagos fur seal. A staggering 97% of Galapagos land area is designated a national park, allowing for the protection of the various fauna and flora. Visitors can expect to see sea lions napping on sandy beaches or even benches, while snorkelers may also spot green sea turtles, octopuses, sea horses and reef sharks. A popular way of exploring the Galapagos is on a small expedition cruise.

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Whether you base yourself on Panama's Caribbean or Pacific coast, you'll have access to vibrant reefs and remarkable shipwrecks to explore. The aforementioned Bocas Del Toro islands are one of the premier diving destinations in the country. Beginners should check out the shallow reefs at Hospital Point, while more advanced divers can descend to depths of 100 feet to spot grouper, snapper and a variety of reef fish at Manuel's Wall.

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LA JOLLA, California (AP) — At first glance, it looks like a branch of kelp, but then an eye moves among its leafy appendages, and ridges of tiny, translucent fins start to flutter, sending the creature gliding through the water like something from a fairy tale.

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