When we imagine coral forests, we usually picture in our head the stoney corals from warm water oceans, such as Polynesia or the Great Barrier Reef. Those would be more accurately called “coral gardens”, as to me, a forest is sort of lush and well…foresty. A garden of sea fans and gorgonians? Yeah, that’s more like the forest I imagine in my mind.

Even though the Cortez has a healthy amount of stoney coral reefs, it really does excel in its soft coral forests.

Loreto in particular is one of the best examples in Baja. Its location, a bit farther north within Baja Sur, favors the exchange of temperate and warm waters, and its topography creates frequent upwelling currents. These two factors are key to a healthy soft coral reef, as they bring nutrients and current, which acts as a conveyor belt that brings the nutrients to the coral.

Coral forests in Loreto come in different colors and shapes. Most of the shallow ones are made mainly of Muriceas. These forests are normally shades of orange and red, but there are also some yellow, pink and green ones. They can be found at all depths, but the particular type on Muricea will change as one dives deeper, creating colorful landscapes as we transition to one depth to the other.

The best examples of Muricea forests in Loreto can be found in Punta Dijon and La Choya (Carmen island), Sharktooth and Punta Leonor (Danzante island), Punta Blanca and Las Lajas (Coronados island) and some remote sites like Piedra Ahogada and Olla Fierro.

Pacifigorgias, or true sea fans are also found often, although they seldom cover large extensions. They rather prefer to grow in canyons, swimthroughs or overhangs where the current sweeps stronger. Pro tip: if you see many of these fans all aligned facing the same direction in the same place, a strong current usually occurs there! Eyes open!

Some of the most diverse coral forests sprout in transition zones where different habitats overlap each other. In these places, sea fans and gorgonians of all kinds live together and form colorful thickets. In divesites with a greater variety of depths or frequent currents is where the most diverse gardens can be found, a beautiful opportunity for photographers looking for

But without a doubt, the most impressive forests are found in deeper waters. This might sound counterintuitive to some as we are very used to see thicker reefs shallow in the most popular dive destinations. Stoney coral needs to be shallow, as it greately relies on a symbiotic algae and its photosynthetic capacity to survive. Soft coral tend to be mainly carnivores and they get most of their food from passing by prey. They don’t need to be shallow per sei. As a matter of fact, they thrive deep because they face lesser competition by stoney coral and algae!

Black coral (Antipathes and Myriopathes family) is the king of the deeps in Loreto, along with some rare albino Muriceas. These forests get truly massive, and they tend to keep going forever, as far as your eyes can reach. While there are several types of black coral in Loreto, the best examples of forests are composed mainly from yellow polyp black coral, and white black coral (what??). A lil tip: they are called black corals by the color of their skeleton, but the polyps and skin can attain different colors!

There are many good examples of these forests in Loreto, specially for technical divers that can attain greater depths and witness the absolute best forests there are.

Best examples of black coral forests are: Punta Blanca and Esmeralda (Coronados area), The Abyss and The Lost Mount (Carmen), Zen Garden, Bajo Gomez, Limey’s Mound (south of the Park) and some deep, remote sites like Mount Eden and Bajo Gomez.

The deeper you go, the thickest the forests get and normally they are accompanied by an equal abundance of fish life. Some of the most impressive coral forests are also premium hunting grounds for pelagic fish like amberjacks, yellowtails or hammerhead sharks.