The second longest barrier reef in the world
The Belize Barrier Reef ecosystem is one of the most diverse network of reef structures in the world. Both fringing and barrier reef structures are present in the Barrier Reef itself. The Barrier Reef rests on the edge of the continental shelf, and is separated from the Belize coast by a vast lagoon. Out past the Barrier Reef lie the three atolls of Belize (Glovers Reef, Lighthouse Reef, and Turneffe Islands). Each atoll contains numerous patch reefs. Most of the world’s atolls are found in the Pacific, where they form on the top of submerged volcanoes. Atolls are rare in the Western Hemisphere. Only four occur in the Caribbean, and three of them are in Belize. Their coral colonies grew on submarine ridges which are a result of the migration of tectonic plates, they are not volcanic in origin.
There is great diversity among the creatures of the Belize Barrier Reef Reserve System. A list of healthy populations of imperiled marine species here include the West Indian manatee, three types of sea turtles (green, hawksbill, and loggerhead), and American crocodile. Hundreds of types native and migratory birds, well over 500 fish, 70 species of coral, 45 hydroids, and 350 different mollusks all call the protected waters of Belize home.
Mayan sites along the coast (Cerros) and on the southern cayes (Wild Cane Caye, and Middle Caye at Glover’s Reef) provide evidence that the reefs were home for fishermen 2500 years ago. When the Mayan culture declined, the reef system probably went unused for hundreds of years. By the 1600s, Belize’s coast and offshore cayes had become a pirate haven; in fact Glover’s Reef is named for John Glover, a pirate who favored the islands of this atoll. In more recent years, there have been waves of populations, including the Garifunas, immigrants from Mexico and Guatemala, and most recently North Americans and Brits who have been seduced by the beauty of the Belize coast and cayes.
By far the best way to get to know this incredible ecosystem is to get out in it. Sign up for a snorkeling vacation, or go kayaking the Belize Barrier Reef.