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Reefs and Marine Life

Many birds, mammals, and other land animals inhabit Nicaragua. Nicaragua's underwater life, however, is just as spectacular. Especially in the Caribbean Sea on the Atlantic side of Nicaragua you can find a beautiful, hidden world below the surface of the blue water.

The Belize Barrier Reef is the second largest barrier reef in the world, with a length of over 300 kilometer. This same reef that starts off the coast of Belize is present in Nicaragua. The Corn Islands are surrounded by this reef and offer probably the best opportunity in Nicaragua for diving and snorkeling. You can see a truly amazing world only minutes away from the white beach of Corn Island. Below follows an overview of the flora and fauna to be seen when diving or snorkeling at the Corn Islands.

The Reef

The coral reef is present around both Little and Big Corn Island. As any coral reef, it provides a great place for fish and other animals to shelter and feed. Reefs are located in shallow, warm waters, and therefore also vulnerable to storms and human activity on the surface. Some parts of the reef have indeed been damaged by hurricanes as well as human activity. Other parts of the reef are very healthy, though, and in any way the coral still provides a place to observe beautiful fish and plants.

You can expect to see Brain Coral, the famous blocks of brain-like coral that are situated on the seafloor. Staghorn Coral is also present, which is a type of coral that looks like the antlers of a deer. The branches can grow several meters high. Pillar Coral can also grow more than two meters tall. This type of hard coral is rather solid, though, and looks less fragile than the Staghorn Coral. The pillars (hence the name) grow from the floor and the tiny polyps can be seen feeding (coral is in fact a very special animal, not a plant).

Another type of hard coral is the Star Coral, whose star-shaped polyps justify its name. Soft coral can also be found around the Corn Islands. Sea Fans are an example of this type of delicate coral. Many other types of coral can be found off the Nicaraguan coast. They come in many different colors - from red to yellow and from purple to black - and they give the underwater world a spectacular image. In addition to the coral, many sea anemones and plants will ensure that big portions of the seafloor are covered and empty sand patches are consequently a rare sight.

Marine Life

Although spectacular by itself, the reefs are even more attractive due to the abundant marine life that is gathered around these colorful eco-systems. Fish and crustaceans reside in and around the coral. For the ones who only saw tropical fish in a fish tank or on TV the reef will be a spectacular place where all those animals can be seen in huge numbers and from close by. Sometimes schools of more than a hundred fish pass by as you swim above the reef. Most fish are not shy and can be observed from a close distance.

Within a small area you can find an incredible number of different animals. Small and large fish all live around the reef and you can also find predators like sharks and barracudas. Fortunately, those fish are not known as aggressive animals and they do not attack people. You can also see magnificent eagle rays 'fly' through the water. Another very impressive resident is the sea turtle. Green Sea Turtles frequent the area, but they are rather hard to spot as local fishermen catch them.

There are numerous other animals that are smaller but not less beautiful. Angelfish are often bred in aquariums and very colorful. The Queen Angelfish has a blue body and bright yellow fins. The Rock Beauty also has very bright yellow colors, but its body is black. Stunning is the difference between juvenile and adult Yellowtail Damselfish. The adult fish are similar to both fish described before - also a yellow tail, with a black body - but the younger fish are quite different. They are dark blue and have light blue, fluorescent spots.

Doctorfish come in many colors, just like Parrotfish, who have sharp teeth to bite off and eat coral. A fish to be seen in groups is the Yellowtail Snapper, a white fish with a (not surprising) yellow tail. This fish should not be confused with the French Grunt which has many yellow stripes instead of the single line that the Yellowtail Snapper has running down its body. Other types of snapper - like Red Snapper - also reside around the reefs.

Those aforementioned fish are only a couple of the many fish living around the reef. In addition, you can also see animals like lobster, crabs, sea snails, and other crustaceans.

Almost all of the animals can be seen when either diving or simply snorkeling. There are shops and boats available on both Little and Big Corn Island that enable you to enter the underwater world. More information on diving and snorkeling can be found in our Activity Guide.

Many thanks to photographer David Sehring for his great photos!