The Pacific Ocean vs. Ocean Caribbean Sea

Since the majority of our snorkeling safaris take place in either the Caribbean Sea or the mighty Pacific Ocean, I thought it might be a good idea to go through a few of the key characteristics of each of these legendary bodies of water. While both the Caribbean and the Pacific offer world-class snorkeling, they each offer a very unique snorkeling experience due to a variety of factors like reef make-up and structure, marine life species, and sea conditions. Now, before I begin my quick breakdown I should be a little more specific about the area of the Pacific I’ll be talking about as the Pacific Ocean technically extends from the west coast of the Americas to the east coast of China. When I refer to the Pacific, I mean the waters around Indonesia as well as the Philippines and Palau—which is typically referred to as the Coral Triangle.

colorful reef and reef fish

One of the big things people notice when they first snorkel in the Coral Triangle is the sheer diversity in coral and fish. This region of the Pacific has the most bio-diverse reefs in the world which contain over 70% of the world’s coral species, and 2,228 species of reef fish. So as you snorkel you are potentially looking at hundreds of different species of coral and thousands of different types of fish all packed into one reef. The reefs within the coral triangle are best compared to a tropical rainforest, while the reef in the Caribbean would be more closely compared to an evergreen forest. One may have more species, but both are full of life and utterly stunning.

Reef Characteristics

Coral Triangle (Pacific)

Typically hard coral will be the dominant type of coral in the shallows, but on certain reefs the sponges will be more prolific. Large sea fans will be scattered throughout. In the areas of the reef that don’t receive a lot of light you will find the brightly colored colonies of soft coral.

Caribbean

Sea fans are famous in the Caribbean, and on most reefs you will find layers upon layers of sea fans swaying back-and-forth. Several different species of hard coral will usually make up the base of the reef with patches of luminous white sand in between. Large brightly colored sponges are also iconic to the Caribbean.

Reef Topography

Coral Triangle (Pacific)

Very diverse topography from island to island. Most reefs will have a hard coral plateau which will either gradually slope away or abruptly turn into a steep wall along the reef’s edge. In some areas you’ll find shallow swim-throughs as well as ridges and shallow pinnacles.

snorkeler swimming through overhang in reef

Caribbean

Reef topography is fairly similar throughout most of the Caribbean with shallow reefs slowly sloping away from the islands. Many of the reefs have interesting ridges and valleys, which of course are covered with beautiful coral.

Marine Life

Coral Triangle (Pacific)

Depending on the area, you can everything from giant schools of jacks and batfish (spadefish) all the way down to the most colorful little reef fish that explode from every crack and crevice. Ambush predators like lionfish, scorpionfish, and frogfish are also common species to find if you have a keen eye! Pelagic species like reef sharks, stingrays, manta rays, turtles, and whale sharks are also regularly seen while snorkeling in this area.

Caribbean

The Caribbean may not have bazillion different species, but it still has a ton of fish big and small. Throughout the Caribbean large schools of snapper of various species and butterfly are some of the dominant schooling fish. Amongst the reef you will of course see lots of really unique reef fish like trunkfish, angelfish, and lots of lobsters. Stingrays and eagle rays are very common as well as a few different species of reef sharks, and in certain places whale sharks are predicbaly. Turtles are also regular reef inhabitants throughout the Caribbean.

Cow fish swimming right up to the camera with snorkeler behind

Sea Conditions

Coral Triangle (Pacific)

Sea conditions can vary from day to day and by region as well. With a few exceptions, every location will have a “high season” where the weather and sea conditions are more favorable. Generally speaking, though the water will be quite clear, but expect some plankton in the water. These are the most bio-diverse waters in the world so there has to be a lot of food to support all this life. Visibility throughout this area will average fifty-feet but can be up to one-hundred feet with the right conditions. Currents can be strong spending on the moon phase, but our guides are very knowledgeable of the currents in all the areas we snorkel and know how to avoid it or just drift with it.

large school of batfish in blue water

Caribbean

The geographic features surrounding the Caribbean Sea help protect the area from strong currents. This may vary a bit depending on the area of the Caribbean you are visiting, but currents are generally very predictable and significantly milder than those of the Pacific. Visibility is also predictably clear and hovers around eighty to one-hundred feet. After a big rain the visibility can drop, but with the next rising or falling tide, the murky water will be moved along.

About Author

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Alex Lindbloom
Alex is a Snorkel Venture and Dive Safari Asia guide as well as one of the video and photo pros for both companies. Alex is also a field editor for a popular underwater photography magazine. Prior to joining Snorkel Venture in 2018 Alex lived and worked all over the world as an underwater cameraman, including five years on a boat in Indonesia. Alex's images and videos have garnered many international awards such as Underwater Photographer of the Year, and can be seen on NatGeo, Discovery Channel, the UN Building, and various magazines.