A Profusion of Color and Life
The underwater world in Belize is spectacular. It boasts the second largest Barrier Reef in the world. But when you take into consideration that the Australian Barrier Reef, the largest in the world, is mostly dead, that leaves Belize’s reef as the largest living Barrier Reef in the world. Whether you are scuba diving or snorkeling, you will be amazed at the profusion of color and life that you will find. The water is always warm and the visibility is outstanding. What more can you ask for?
Great Diving and Snorkeling in Belize
Belize’s coastline is rich in marine life and variety of habitats, the majority of which are under protected status. Scuba divers have been coming to Belize way before it was put on the tourism map. Even today, with the growing popularity of diving in the country, you won’t find dive sites cluttered with dive boats . Many times, you will have the sight to yourself. The coast offers a range of diving with pinnacled mid-reefs, shipwrecks, shallow coral gardens and steep walls. About 70 types of hard corals, 400 species of fish and other diverse marine life add color and life. There is something for the leisure snorkeler to the experienced diver. You can also find scuba courses in most dive shops for those who want to learn or refine their diving skills. With the predominant north easterly winds, visibility along the barrier reef ranges from 50-150 feet with the western side of the atolls almost guaranteeing good visibility. The water temperature is fairly constant all year between the high 70’s to low 80’s (Celcius). As for what the diving is like, Rick Frehsee, a respected dive journalist wrote: “Beneath the turquoise sea is a tapestry and range that exceeds every other Caribbean destination in diversity, size and scope.”
Largest Living Barrier Reef in the World
Belize’s barrier reef is the world’s second largest and was declared a United Nations World Heritage Site in 1996. It stretches 185 miles from the tip of Mexico’s Isla Mujeres to the Sapodilla Cayes in the Bay of Honduras. The fore reef is rich with elkhorn and star corals which form massive spur and groove canyons that continue to slope down to the vertical reef wall. These spur and groove fore reefs provide some of the best diving in Belize. The northern barrier reef has the country’s most popular dive and snorkel site, Hol Chan Marine Reserve & Shark Ray Alley. There are also many other excellent dive sites to explore. As you move south along the barrier reef the inner reef changes from grass beds and patch reefs to an interesting series of sinkholes, pinnacles and faros (shelf atolls). The southern barrier reef is relatively unexplored with 2 of the best marine parks in the country, Southwater Caye Marine Reserve and Laughing Bird Caye National Park. The south also harbors migrating whale sharks in March, April, May and June. Within the barrier reef lay over 200 islands. The majority are mangrove islets which act as important fish nurseries. Some are coral islands with reefs just off the beach good for snorkeling.
3 Coral Atolls & The Blue Hole
East of the barrier reef lay 3 of the 4 Caribbean atolls; their total surface area of reef is equal to that of the entire barrier reef itself! Atolls are basically groups of islands and coral reef that encircle a central lagoon. The circular reef is characterized by steep walls with a few scattered shipwrecks. They are known for excellent visibility and some of the best walls in the country. The relative isolation of the atolls along with the reefs and nutrient rich lagoons produce a diversity of marine life. Turneffe Islands Atoll has numerous mangrove islands and vast sea grass beds; the Elbow on the southern tip is arguably Belize’s best dive. Lighthouse Reef Atoll supports a diverse living reef with well developed spur and groove canyons and unique arc shaped reef segments. The Blue Hole and Halfmoon Caye also lay in the central lagoon of the atoll. Glover’s Reef Atoll is surrounded by broad, well-defined reefs of living coral and is a UN World Heritage Site. The many unique dive sites on these atolls make them popular with divers and snorkelers. A few dive resorts are perched right on them while many dive shops from other destinations offer day trips to explore them.