Melanie Mcfield is the Director of the Healthy Reefs for Healthy People Initiative and wrote this stellar article for Destination Belize Magazine, which begins by talking about Glover’s Reef. In the photo below, the three atolls of Belize, clockwise from left, are Turneffe Islands, Lighthouse Reef, Glover’s Reef. Our private island, Long Caye, is located at Glover’s Reef.

The three atolls of Belize

Charles Darwin didn’t actually visit Belize’s reef, but after talking to other naturalists who had, he described it as “the most remarkable reef in the West Indies” in his 1842 book, Coral Reefs of the World. Among his many accomplishments, Darwin is credited with unlocking many of the mysteries of coral reef development, evolution and atoll formation. Atolls in the Pacific Ocean are believed to have formed when volcanic islands sank into the sea, leaving just a rim of growing coral near the surface. Atolls in the Western Caribbean are thought to have a different history. Many scientists believe these circular rims of coral are actually growing to keep pace with rising seas. Belize’s atolls are living, breathing coral reefecosystems—each with a unique history and a unique character.

Glovers Reef, Lighthouse Reef and Turneffe Reef are three of the four such coral structures in the Northwest Caribbean; the fourth is located near Banco Chinchorro in Mexico. The atolls rise deep from the seabed, beyond the more familiar continental shelf demarcated by the barrier reef. They are each constructed on foundations of Pleistocene limestone ridges that lie on submerged tectonic faults running in a Northeast direction.

Glovers Reef is the oldest (~7,500 yrs) with the best circular shape, a well developed coral rim and the deepest inner lagoon (18m deep) containing over eight hundred patch reefs scattered throughout. A few sandy cayes make up a land surface of only 0.2% of its total size of approximately one hundred and sixty square miles. Although it is ‘oceanic’ in character with clean clear waters, Glovers is occasionally affected by large river runoff events from the large Honduran rivers to the south. The entire atoll is a marine reserve and is one of the crown jewels comprising Belize’s World Heritage Site. The islands are all privately owned but Middle Caye was donated to the Wildlife Conservation Society and now serves as the headquarters of the reserve and an active marine research station. Glovers Reef has the largest remaining Nassau grouper spawning aggregation site… (read the full article here).

To learn more about the formation of Glover’s Reef Atoll, visit our website.

There are five underwater ridges off the coast of Belize, formed by fault lines resulting when the Yucatan and Nicaraguan “blocks” (limestone plateaus) separated and rotated on the axis of the Central American “spine” of mountains, part of the chain running from Alaska to Tierra del Fuego.

The most developed of the five is also the one that interests us here at Slickrock because it is the basis of the southern part of the Barrier Reef, Glover’s Reef, and Lighthouse Caye.The underwater ridge gives the atolls of Belize their conspicuous NE-SW orientation. The coral reef grows on top of these underwater features.

This aerial photograph of Long Caye shows the top of the Glover’s Reef atoll

The ancient coastline of Belize used to be where the Barrier Reef is now. As the area sank slowly, the coral growing along the coast and around the island continued to grow toward the surface of the water.

Coral needs light to exist and grows rapidly if necessary to stay within 30 feet of the surface.

The Barrier Reef is on the edge of the continental shelf with Glover’s Atoll being beyond the edge of the shelf.

The trench outside of Glover’s Reef descends to 9000’ within five miles of Long Caye.

You can read more about Glover’s Reef on our website.