This article first appeared in the December 2011 issue of ISLANDS.
1. Stingrays, Grand Cayman
Early one morning I decided to head out to the Sandbar, in Cayman’s North Sound. It was still before 9 a.m. when I arrived in three to five feet of water with some squid in hand. Nothing was out there. And then they came. A squadron of about 85 southern stingrays, mostly big hungry females. As I fed out the squid, they rubbed their velvety wings all over me. It was kind of like the thank-yous were mutual.
2. Dugongs, Philippines
Never use the word guaranteed with marine life. I don’t. But every time I’ve been in the water around Dimakya Island (a Crusoe dream of an island), these elusive, bragworthy mammals have shown up to feed on the sea grass around me. And, for some reason, more than at any other place in the world, they tolerate snorkelers for extended up-close moments.
3. Clowns, Lord Howe Island
There it was, off one of my favorite islands, in less than 20 feet of water. Among 5-foot kingfish, reef sharks and hawksbill sea turtles, I spotted a black clownfish. Menacing, no. But this, the world’s most southerly coral reef, is the only place where it’s found. And no dive gear needed.
4. Whale Sharks, Yucatan
My eyes must have been as open as his mouth: a 30-foot whale shark, the biggest fish in the sea, off Isla Holbox, Mexico. Feeding near me, just beneath the surface, the big guy seemed amazingly laid back, just like the island itself.
5. Mantas, Big Island
There aren’t many places where I’ve snorkeled at night and seen anything. But a few fin kicks from the Sheraton Keauhou Bay, they put lights in the water, which attract plankton, which attracts giant mantas. Unforgettable.