Belize has the longest barrier reef in the Northern Hemisphere and offers a combination
of gentle inshore scuba diving and some more adventurous oceanic dive sites for
experienced divers. Belize offers scuba divers a heady concoction of reef, wall, cavern
and cay diving experiences.
Belize had a history of swashbuckling buccaneering in days gone by. Back then, there were
regular pirate attacks on Spanish treasure ships. Now, it is a peaceful little city on the
Caribbean coast of Central America.
Belize is a popular diving destination because of its long barrier reef which offers an
array of diving experiences for all levels of scuba diving proficiency, from the novice
beginners to the experienced veteran divers.
The barrier reef is about 174 miles or 280 km long extending all the way along the coast
of the Yucatan Peninsula in the north to Honduras in the south. In this way, the reef
actually creates a true barrier between the ocean and the coast thus providing calm waters
to scuba dive in.
There are also numerous islands dotting the reef which are called cays or cayes in this
part of the world. In the south eastern part of the reef, there is a large depression in
the ocean floor of the Caribbean Sea and this created 3 atolls called Glovers, Turneffe
and Lighthouse. The atolls sit on two parallel ridges unlike the atolls of the Pacific,
which grew out of volcanoes.
These atolls rise close enough to the surface to allow sunlight penetration causing
massive coral and sponge growths. It is therefore not surprising the Belize barrier reef
is declared as a world heritage and is the subject of intense conservation and protection.
Coral reefs in the Caribbean sea have a character of their own in that they do not have
the very diverse system of the Indo Pacific reefs. However, they lay claim to beautiful
individual corals and sponges. The sponges are some of the most colorful to be found
anywhere in the world. Some of the sponges are more than a century old and can measure up
to an awesome 6 ft or 2 m across.
Perhaps, the main attraction for scuba diving in Belize is the contrast of its marine
habitats ranging from bustling coral communities on gentle sandy slopes to steep drop offs
with huge pelagic fish and sharks.
Scuba divers will find smaller coral communities in inshore reefs. These inshore reefs are
home to about 500 species of fish including the 5 separate species of butterfly fish. It
is here that encounters with larger marine animals such as the manatees, whale shark,
jewfish, manta rays are common occurrences.
Ever wonder what its like to swim among one of the worlds largest
creatures? Each Spring, in the Central American country of Belize, whale sharks
weighing in as much as 20 tons and measuring up to 65 feet in length emerge from
the depths of the Caribbean Sea off the southern coast of Belize where Scuba divers and
snorkelers relish in the rare opportunity to swim alongside these gentle giants.
"We are fortunate that these magnificent creatures seasonally return to Belizes
warm waters," said Director of Tourism Tracy Panton. "Visitors to the beautiful
country of Belize have the unique opportunity to get up close to the curious whale sharks
and experience this incredible natural phenomenon."
Whale sharks are characterized by their white, spotted back, two dorsal fins and of
course, gigantic size. Although their enormity may be daunting, these docile fish are
docile and feed on plankton. In fact, it is the annual spawning of the cubera snapper
during the months of March, April, May and June that brings the whale sharks to the
Gladden Spit Marine Reserve just beyond Belizes barrier reef.
Numerous resorts and dive operators in the Stann Creek District of Belize offer special
packages and excursions for guests looking to dive or snorkel with whale sharks in their
natural environment. Whale shark encounters must be timed accordingly with the full moon
phases to coincidence with the aggregating snapper.
Hamanasi Dive & Adventure Resorts PADI operated dive shop located in Hopkins,
Belize offers a two-tank whale shark dive for $190 per person. In Placencia, the PADI
operated Seahorse Dive Shops Brian Young is the founder of the Whale Shark
Expeditions and boasts over 24 years of diving experience for optimal sightings. A
two-tank dive with Young and his dive masters costs $150 per person. For more information
visit www.hamanasi.com or www.belizescuba.com
Belize is fortunate to have these barrier reefs, and yet is able to preserve them.
With crystal clear Caribbean waters, we could literally see through the sea.
Found only in marine waters, these calcareous formations support the living corals
and a great variety of other animal and plant life. They come in many shades
and colors, and here in Belize - the see-through clear waters make them a
Lighthouse Reef Atoll
Lighthouse reef atoll is located 45 miles east of Belize City, and is one of
the only four such atolls in the western hemisphere. Long Caye is in
southern part of Belize, and is the largest of the five cayes within the
atoll. It is remote, yet accessible.
The lagoons and mangroves of Long Caye provide a unique habitat for the abundant
array of tropical wildlife that we find here. This is surrounded by
magnificent walls of corals with a marine eco-system that is extending for
The Half Moon Caye Bird Sanctuary, The Great Blue Hole, and other coral reefs
and diving sites - like The Aquarium, Half Moon Wall and Cathedral are just
minutes away from the Lighthouse reef. Long Caye offers extraordinary
opportunities for scuba diving, snorkeling, photography, sailing,
recreational and sport-fishing, sea kayaking, bird watching and swimming.
You could just relax here and explore this magnificent Caribbean beauty.
The community on Long Caye, has a long term responsibility to help preserve and
manage this pristine environment, and create a legacy for generations to
come. Tourists and visitors are welcome here provided they understand the
need and follow the eco-guidelines in place for preserving and maintaining
this significant heritage.
The Barrier Reef off Ambergris Caye
This Barrier Reef lies about half a mile off the windward side of the island and
is the longest barrier reef in the Western Hemisphere, and the second
longest in the world.
To the east of Barrier Reef are three separate atoll reefs - Turneffe and Glover's
on one ridge, and Lighthouse on a separate ridge further east. Deep marine
trenches separate the two reefs. There is also a fourth atoll reef - The
Banco Chinchorro, to the north in Mexican waters.
Flying south into Belize, we can see the Barrier Reef as an unbroken chain of white
surf running alongside the Caribbean coast of the Yucatan Peninsula and
continuing south throughout the whole length of the country to the Ranguana
and Sapodilla cayes.
Inside these reefs the water is shallow and with a bluish tinge. Outside, the water
is deep, and from the sky shows as a dark royal blue. These two shades of
blue, of the same sea are visibly separated by a narrow yellow line, as this
Barrier Reef stands out.
Close to the populated island, the Barrier Reef is a magnificent solid wall of
coral formation broken only by narrow channels called 'quebradas'. This is
where divers could be kept enthralled for hours by the unending variety,
shapes and colors of the tropical coral.
However this reef is more than just a decorative sideshow. Without this the
island would not have existed for it serves as a natural break-water,
protecting the beach from erosion, and sheltering the caye and the
Though the reef looks like dead stone, it is in fact a living wall formed by
millions of coral organisms. Actually, the corals are carnivorous animals
known as polyps, which feed on small sea creatures that float by, capturing
them with stinging tentacles. They only feed at night, pulling their
tentacles back into the skeleton during the day.
Minute blue-green algae live within the coral skeleton, and give off oxygen, which
the coral polyps breathe in; and the algae in turn absorb the carbon-dioxide
which the coral polyps give away, forming a genuine symbiotic relationship.
These corals grow into various exotic shapes and colors. You will find them in
gold, to red, orange, green, brown and yellow. Underwater rainbows are here
to be found.
Dustin Hart is not a quintessential writer - rather he is a back-packer who lives
off his ultra-light folding bike. He lives (or tries to live) in the state
of Washington - with his dog Toobs. He recently caught up with Larry
Schneider of Eco Holdings Limited in relation to the eco-friendly tourism &
real estate in Belize.
Learn more about Belize by visiting our other Belize Pages: