Snorkelling: Introduction

A detailed guide to snorkelling in the coral reefs of Tobago

Reef scene

Snorkelling, or snorkeling as our North American cousins would prefer it, is one of the most popular visitor activities on Tobago – hardly surprising considering that Tobago has some of the best coral reefs in the Caribbean. Tobago’s shallow reefs are ideal for visitors who want to experience Tobago’s magical underwater landscape. Hopefully the experience will lead you on to SCUBA diving, but in the meantime, snorkelling requires little other than that you are a fairly fit, competent swimmer.

As you drift over a coral field, you will see a world full of colour and movement. Coral reefs are one of the most diverse environments in the world. Multi-hued fish dart amongst the coral heads, feeding on plants, algae and each other. Crustaceans and invertebrates plod along the bottom. Soft corals, sea fans and sponges flutter in the currents.

Although the hard corals that form the structure of a reef can look like lifeless coloured rocks, they are actually living creatures. Inside the calcium ‘rock’ live thousands of tiny coral polyps – jelly-like creatures that usually show themselves only at night when they feed. The colour comes from the algae that live with the reef in a symbiotic relationship.

The essential equipmentReef fish come in an amazing variety of colours and shapes, like the tube-like trumpet fish and the disk-shaped butterfly and angel fish. Many are easy to spot with their bright neon colours, but others are disguised and hard to distinguish from the reef. Many are solitary; others travel in schools, such as the clouds of yellowtail snappers or blue tangs that swarm over the reefs. To see these wonders, just hover over a coral patch, keep still and wait for the shy creatures to show themselves.

Once you are comfortable on the surface, you will be ready to try free diving. Take a deep breath and swim down a few feet to examine the reef and its residents more closely. Make a game of finding the many camouflaged creatures that look like part of the reef. Peek, but do not poke, into small holes to look for the wary animals, such as the red squirrel fish, that like to stay hidden.

There’s more about Tobago’s magical undersea world in our main Diving feature, including a section on Tobago’s Reefs by Dr Owen Day of the Buccoo Reef Trust, and our own article on Conservation.

You can access all sections of our snorkelling article through the tabs at the top and bottom of these pages, or by clicking on any of the subject lines in the following index:

Reef Scene

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Page Updated: 18 Aug 17