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Curaçao offers spectacular underwater treasures when it comes to marine environments, where scuba divers and snorkelers can enjoy healthy reefs and good visibility. Stretching along 20km (12 miles) of Curaçao's southern coastline, the Curaçao Underwater Park features steep walls, shallow wrecks, gardens of soft coral, and more than 30 species of hard coral. A snorkel trail with underwater interpretive markers is laid out just east of the Breezes resort and is accessible from shore.

The two most spectacular dive sites are the Mushroom Forest and Sponge Forest where oversize coral heads and sponges abound. Two good wreck dives are the Superior Producer, a sunken vessel near Willemstad Harbor, and the tugboat near Caracas Bay. Dramatic vertical drops abound and can be explored at Knipbai and Blauwbaai. Due to the abundance of marine life, night dives are particularly rewarding in Curaçao.

Ocean Encounters Diving (tel. 599/9-461-8131; www.oceanencounters.com) offers the most complete dive facilities and services at many hotels, including Breezes, Lions Dive & Beach Resort, Hilton Curaçao Resort, and both Kurá Hulanda properties. They offer daily two-tank dives for $92 and afternoon snorkel trips for $50; wreck dives (Fri) and night dives run $80. Ocean Encounters can even arrange interactive open-water dolphin dives together with the Dolphin Academy for $266 (Mon and Fri). Weekly trips to Mushroom Forest (Thurs) and East Punt (Tues) and Klein Curaçao are also offered for $150 with its fleet of seven custom dive boats. The Kid's Sea Camp offers underwater educational activities for children.

Coral Above & Below -- After emerging from an awe-inspiring dive to a healthy reef that was a patchwork of pink, purple, and green corals, waving fans containing a Carnival of topaz, yellow, and pink fish, I glanced skyward. As if to not be outdone, a flock of pink flamingos silently glided overhead in a perfectly synchronized single-file display. Thank goodness salt water conveniently masked the tears of awe. Awwww.

Sustainable Diving & Snorkeling

Touching any coral -- including soft corals such as sea fans -- is forbidden in any marine protected area and should be avoided at all costs everywhere. Even the lightest contact is deadly to the coral and can scrape and cut you as well, leaving rashes and stings much like that of a jellyfish (coral's free-floating cousin). Divers and snorkelers are also not permitted to touch, pet, or otherwise harass any fish, including eels and rays, whose delicate skin is coated with antibacterial slime, which protects them from potentially deadly skin infections.

Feeding fish is similarly dangerous, however innocuous it seems. It can alter natural feeding behavior or, worse, cause the fish to sicken or die from ingesting unfamiliar food.

But wait, there's more. By applying sunscreen or insect repellent before entering the water, divers release harmful chemicals to the water and can mimic the coral's hormones causing them premature death and illness.

It seems the more scientists learn, the more delicate these systems appear. Want to make up for past infractions? Check out REEF, the Reef Environmental Education Foundation (www.reef.org), a volunteer monitoring program that allows divers to log in and add their fish sightings to a global database used by scientists to monitor populations.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.