Glover's Reef, Belize
Glover’s Reef, Belize

For several years now the government of Belize has been trying to develop their petroleum production resources after oil was discovered in western Belize. Several wells were drilled there and have been producing oil which is exported to the US to be refined. The revenues for the government generated from this activity have been a real boon to Belize.

The government then proceeded to issue licenses to oil companies to further explore the country for possible new oil discoveries, and since the Gulf and Yucatan region have been very productive in producing oil, many companies snapped up these licenses and have been doing seismic testing all over mainland Belize. The government also issued off shore drilling licenses, which were very contentious since any offshore drilling would despoil the country’s famous barrier reef and islands, the country’s primary tourism resource. Many environmental activists mounted protest campaigns which have been going on for many years. They were able to enlist the help of powerful allies in seeking to convince the government that offshore drilling would hurt the county’s largest industry, tourism.

It was announced early last week that these efforts have been partially successful, as per the news story below.

gun boat from Guatemala
Guatemalan gunboat at Glover’s Reef

Last week there was big news out at Glover’s Reef, a Guatemalan naval gunboat crashed on the atoll’s ring reed between our island and nearby Middle Caye. The patrol boat was passing by the reef with another vessel on their way to Mexico when its steering apparently broke down, and it then drifted onto the reef. It was grounded there for about 4 days before another Guatemalan boat was able to pull it off, which the accompanying boat was initially unable to do. Reports indicate that no live coral was damaged, but this is being investigated.

Relations between Guatemala and Belize are currently rather tense due to incursions by Guatemalans into Belizean territory for illegal logging, and a more recent incident at the southern border where a Belizean Coast Guard patrol was forced out of Belizean territory by a Guatemalan patrol. Guatemala has been acting aggressively towards Belize with these incidents due to a long standing border dispute that reaches back to a treaty signed in 1857. The OAS (Organization of American States) has been smoothing over these disputes with diplomatic meetings, but Guatemala continues to disregard its agreements with these continuing incidents.

So the grounding of the naval gunboat has been construed by some Belizeans as another direct threat to Belizean sovereignty, although it does appear that there was a legitimate excuse for the grounding of this gunboat.

Coral reef ecosystem
Exploring The Aquarium, about a half mile paddle from our island

A new report on the health of Caribben coral reef ecosystems just came out, proclaiming the savior of the declining reefs to be none other than the ubiquitous parrotfish. This fish family is arguably the most numerous of the many fish species we encounter at Glover’s Reef. Some (but not near all) of the parrotfish species we regularly encounter while snorkeling near our island: Stoplight Parrotfish, Queen Parrotfish, Princess Parrotfish, and Midnight Parrotfish. Scientific parrotfish studies have taken place just off our shore by researchers based at the nearby Wilderness Conservation Society island, Middle Caye.

queen parrotfish
Queen Parrotfish spotted just off our shore

An international report released this week lays out a guardedly optimistic path to coral reef recovery — starting with conservation of an unlikely reef champion — the parrotfish. The report was produced by the Global Coral Reef Monitoring Network, the International Union for Conservation of Nature and the United Nations Environment Program.

Coral reef health requires an ecological balance of corals and algae in which herbivory is a key element. Populations of parrotfish are a critical component of that herbivory, particularly since the decline of sea urchins in the early 1980s; the main causes of mortality of parrotfish are the use of fishing techniques such as spearfishing and, particularly, the use of fish traps.

Many people say that climate change has already doomed coral reefs. But the report shows that the loss of parrotfishes and other seaweed-eating grazers has been far more important than climate change for Caribbean reef destruction so far. While it is true that climate change poses an enormous risk for the future because of coral bleaching and more acidic oceans, the fact is that reefs protected from overfishing, excessive coastal development and pollution are more resilient to these stresses. Even if we could somehow make climate change disappear tomorrow, these reefs would continue their decline. We must immediately address the grazing problem for the reefs to stand any chance of surviving future climatic shifts.

[Photos by Jason Lee (top) and Toby Chung (bottom)]

On Long Caye, we’re blessed to have easy access to a long list of incredible sites for snorkel diving. One of our nearby favorites we call The Channel. Come on, slip out of your mental sea kayak for a minute and join us for a snorkeling adventure!

Below is a map of our top 10 snorkel sites. You can see how close they are to our adventure center. That kind of close proximity and variety is one of the many things that sets our resort apart from the rest.
Belize snorkel map

You can snorkel right from our shore by swimming to nearby snorkel spots, or use our kayaks to access even more areas. In the photo above, 10 spots that we explore each week are shown and listed here:

1. Practice Reef. This is where we conduct our snorkel orientations and where we also go night snorkeling. Our most accessible reef, you can walk or swim to it, and much of the surrounding sand at this patch reef is only about 3 feet deep, so you can stand up right next the coral whenever you need a break.

2. The Aquarium. Just a 1/2 mile paddle away, this is our favorite snorkel. A very shallow reef, you can stand up all around this beautiful patch reef. Most of the incredible snorkel images on this site are taken here.

3. Dado’s Reef. This reef is just a swim away. It is quite deep in places. One of the most beautiful snorkel spots you will ever see.

4. The Horseshoe. This nearby reef is accessed by kayak, although for a longer swim you can also swim there with a safety kayaker joining you. It is just over 1/2 mile from our island. This is usually our first paddle/snorkel, where you paddle to a patch, tie your boat up to the guide’s boat, and jump out WITHOUT tipping over (we teach you to do this.)

5. The Wall. When the conditions are right we swim to this famous Belize dive site. This entire snorkel is over your head, and conditions have to be calm. Here we can see huge loggerhead turtles swimming right in front of us!

6. The Cut. Here we swim from the southern end of the island along the barrier reef of the atoll from the inside. We cut through the boat channel, and return on the outside of the reef. A fantastic, long exploratory snorkel.

7. Snorkel Around the Island. We often swim almost all the way around, and the outside of the island is the best. We are not as far out as The Wall snorkel, the coral and parrot fish here are amazing!

8. The Channel. We paddle out to a deep patch reef between Long and Northeast Cayes. Huge schools of fish, black grouper and spotted eagle rays are seen almost every time!

9. Northeast Caye. There are several areas of reef over near this caye that we like to paddle to. A fairly deep snorkel, it’s nice to have your boat to hang on to if you need extra flotation. This is a gorgeous area.

10. Drift Snorkel. We swim out from the north end of our island, and then drift with the prevailing winds which takes us by three small patch reefs. Then we swim back in at the south end. A very aerobic swim!

There was something so very different
so far from my ken, my experience
sharing a tropical sunrise with her
with my beautiful wife, alone on the beach
Waking before the dawn, sitting together
watching the sliver of light rise
and consume the dark
warm breezes off the easterly shore, sunlight
wafting across us, moving inland
to wake the island
— poem by Raymond A. Foss (2008)
Photo: sunrise from the beach behind the surf dock

Actor Ted Danson, (Cheers, Becker, Curb Your Enthusiasm) posted an informative article on the Huffington Post today detailing the struggle in Belize to save the Belize Barrier Reef (and offshore atolls like Glover’s Reef) from the potential dangers imposed by offshore drilling. Danson writes:

In Belize, thousands of citizens are in an uproar about the government’s determination to drill for offshore oil. The government, represented by Prime Minister Dean Barrow, was just narrowly re-elected – but despite a clear message from the people, it continues to ignore the significant outcry against offshore drilling.

A petition calling for a national referendum on the question collected 20,000 signatures, a full 10% of the voting population and a larger sampling than the law requires in order to trigger a vote. But the government disqualified 8,000 of the signatures and has continued to refuse to budge from its pro-offshore drilling stance. Danson concludes his piece by calling upon citizens everywhere to become involved:

The love and concern for Belize’s reef reaches far beyond the country lines. There are countless people from all over the world who have developed a special connection to this breathtaking country after swimming in its lovely waters or diving in its reef – all thanks to its pristine natural resources. We all hope the government, which loves Belize’s barrier reef like we do, will hear the concerns of the people in Belize and around the world and ban offshore oil drilling in Belize’s waters to help protect its barrier reef and its natural heritage.

Anderson Cooper, in a report recently on 60 Minutes, visits with coral reef specialists at a remote coral reef off the coast of Cuba: The Gardens of the Queen. This reef is special in that, due to its remote location and the fact it has long been protected from over-fishing and other human/industrial depredations, it is one of the few reef systems in the world that is still thriving. In this regard, and because of it’s location in the Caribbean, it is remarkably similar to what is found at Glover’s Reef, also a world-class marine reserve.

The reef as described in the 60 Minutes episode could be about Glover’s Reef, where our island is located off the coast of Belize. View this episode to see what can be found at a healthy Caribbean coral reef.

Watch and enjoy the abundant, colorful marine life on Youtube:

Our island is located off the coast of Belize at Glover’s Reef Atoll, a National Marine Reserve. In order to protect the marine life there, the Belize government has prohibited fishing at Glover’s reef for tourists except for sport fishing, or catch-and-release. The only exception is if you are a native and own one of the few fishing licenses issued for Glover’s Reef.

There is one other exception: lionfish — anyone can spear them because they are an invasive species from the Pacific Ocean (the Caribbean is an Atlantic sea). Lionfish are very detrimental to the native species population, and killing them is encouraged. Watch this short video of our guide, Victor Myers, spearing one.

The lionfish, native to the Indo-Pacific region, have infiltrated their way into the Caribbean. Their introduction is believed to be a result of hurricanes and tank releases during the early 1990’s. They have been spotted along the eastern seaboard spanning as far north as Rhode Island to as far south as Columbia. Protected by venomous spines, lionfish are voracious predators. When hunting, they herd and corner their prey using their pectoral fins, then quickly strike and swallow their prey whole. With few known natural predators, the lionfish poses a major threat to coral reef ecosystems in the Caribbean region by decreasing survival of a wide range of native reef animals via both predation and competition. While native grouper may prey on lionfish, they have been overfished and therefore unlikely to significantly reduce the effects of invasive lionfish on coral reef communities.

Help us do something about this problem! Bring your spear gun with you on one of our island trips!