Belize Barrier Reef lies about half a mile off the winward side of the
island. It is the longest barrier reef in the Western Hemisphere and the second
longest in the world.
To the east of the Barrier Reef are three separate atoll reefs. There is
also a fourth atoll reef, Banco Chinchorro, just to the north in Mexican
waters, which will be of particular interest to wreck divers.
The three Belize atoll reefs are formed on two tiers of submarine ridges:
Turneffe and Glover's on one ridge and Lighthouse on a separate ridge
farther to the east. This accounts for their similar outlines and NE-SW
orientations. Deep marine trenches separate the two ridges.
Flying south into Belize, you can see the reef as an unbroken chain of
white surf running along the Caribbean coast of the Yucatan
Peninsula and continuing south almost the whole length of the country to
the Ranguana and Sapodilla Cayes.
For extensive information on the plant and animal life in the reefs, CLICK HERE.
For information on the Meso-American Barrier-Reef System (MBRS) Project, click here.
Inside the reef
the water is shallow, with a blue tinge; outside the reef the water is deep and
from the air shows a dark royal blue. On very clear days the reef appears as a
narrow yellow line dividing the two shades of blue. Only near Ambergris
Caye does the reef run so close to a well-populated caye. Here it is an almost
so!id wall of magnificent coral formation broken only by narrow channels
called "quebradas". Here an observant diver can be kept entertained for hours
on end by the unending variety, shapes and colours ofthe tropical coral.
But the reef is more than just a decorative sideshow. Without it the island
would not exist for it serves as a natural break-water protecting the beach
from erosion by the waves, and sheltering the caye and its inhabitants.
The remarkably clear and shallow water inside the reef allows excellent
viewing of the fabulous marine life of the area. Rainbow tinged tropical fish,
delicate sea fans and majestic coral gardens abound. Outside the reef, the
seabed drops sharply in a series of plateau to depths of thousands of feet. Out
here in the blue are found the gamefish - mackerel, kingfish, wahoo, tuna,
sailfish and marlin.
Although it looks Iike dead stone, the reef is in fact a living wall formed
millions of coral organisms. These coral are carnivorous animals, known as
polyps, which eat small sea creatures that float by, capturing them with
stinging tentacles. They feed, however, only at night, pulling their tentacles back into
the skeleton during the day. Within the reef skeleton live minute blue green
algae. These give off oxygen which the coral polyps breathe; the algae, in
turn absorb the carbon dioxide which the polyps give off, forming thus a
genuine symbiotic relationship. Coral are multicoloured varying from gold
to red, orange, green, brown and yellow The soft, living tube shaped coral
polyp protects itself by forming a hard layer of calcium carbonate called the
corallite. Colonies ofthese polyps form the structure of the coral reef growing
in strange and exotic shapes that give the different varieties their popular
names, such as brain coral, staghorn coral and elkhorn coral.
The reef needs two factors to survive - solar energy and chemical nutrients.
The nutrients flow into the sea as plant and animal organic material from
rivers and creeks on the mainland and on the caye itself The organic material
is broken down into its chemical derivates by bacteria and other microorganisms,
thus providing the nutrients necessary for reef growth.
The warm clear water off the coast of Belize, fed as it is by various mainland
rivers and streams, form an excellent environment for the reef.
The entire island of Ambergris in fact probably resulted from the
accumulation of coral fragments along with silt from the Rio Hondo. The
report of the British Honduras Land Use Survey Team of l959 notes: "The
connected chains of coral islands known as Ambergris Caye was formed
from the accumulation of coral fragments...first as a shoal patch. These shoals
tend to build up in long lines parallel to the coast of the mainland. It is
thought that their orientation may be connected with submarine geological
strata rather than being entirely the work of sea currents."
The preceeding article was excerpted from the book Ambergris Caye,
Paradise With A Past, published by Cubola Productions of Benque Viejo del
Carmen and written by the Honourable Glenn D. Godfrey, Area
Representative from Belize Rural South. It is available in local bookstores.
For more on coral, click here....
For information on diving a little north at Banco Chinchorro, click here....
View a photo gallery of the Belize Barrier Reef Reserve System, click here....
Here are a few acrobat pdf's with lots of interesting information:
- Summary of Coral Cay Conservation's Data on Commercially Important Reef Fish and Invertebrates from Turneffe Atoll, Belize
September 2000, 66 pages, 2417 KB
- Fish and coral species lists compiled by Coral Cay Conservation: Belize 1990-1998.
September 2000, 26 pages, 833 KB
- Summary of Coral Cay Conservation's oceanographic, climate and anthropogenic impact data from Turneffe Atoll, Belize.
May 2000, 30 pages, 671 KB
- Summary of Coral Cay Conservation's Atlantic and Gulf Rapid Reef Assessment Data from Turneffe Atoll, Belize
January 2000, 70 pages, 414 KB
- Summary of Coral Cay Conservation's Reef Check data (1997 and 1998) from Turneffe Atoll, Belize.
December 1999, 34 pages, 344 KB
- Classification scheme for marine habitats of Belize: Report for the UNDP/GEF Belize Coastal Zone Management Project.
June 1999, 45 pages, 2317 KB
Visitor / Guest Water Safety Tips
Ambergris Caye relies heavily on boats for transportation not only around the island itself but for inter island travel, mainland travel, transportation of cargo and of course tourism. When Swimming or snorkeling on Ambergris Caye please
BEWARE OF BOAT TRAFFIC and follow these safety guidelines:
1) Swim/snorkel between docks and in designated swim areas when available.
2) Do not attempt to swim out to the reef.
3) Consider not wearing jewelry when snorkeling or swimming.
4) If any vessel is heading in your direction signal to make yourself visible.
5) Use a life vest or diver down buoy for visibility when snorkeling or swimming.
6) Touching coral, plant life and dock posts may cause extreme allergic reactions.
7) Always have someone watching when snorkeling or swimming at night.
8) Do not dive from docks as there could be shallow water or obstructions under water.
9) Pay attention to the wind speed and direction when kayaking away from shore.
10) A kayak and/or paddle are useful to make yourself visible while in the water.
11) Your belongings should not be left unattended on the beach or dock.
We want your vacation on Ambergris Caye to be a memorable and enjoyable one so please be safe while exploring our natural wonders.
The amazing photograph of the dolphins in the slideshow at the top of the page is by Martin Spragg. It was taken at Gladden Spit.