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!
According to this article on the New York Aquarium website, Belize passed two new laws in 2009 in order to increase protections for their world class coral reefs and the reef fish species that are symbiotically linked to them, such as this queen parrotfish “smiling” for the camera in this underwater photo taken just off shore from our Adventure Island on Long Caye.
“Belize is giving its beleaguered parrotfish, Nassau grouper, and other reef fish a chance to recover from years of overfishing. The national government and minister of agriculture and fisheries signed a sweeping set of new laws to protect the country’s extensive coral reefs, considered to be the most pristine in the Western Hemisphere.
Research by the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) helped lay the groundwork for the laws, which set a new standard for coral reef protection in the Caribbean. The first of the new laws will protect parrotfish and other grazers, such as doctor and surgeonfish. These herbivores keep algae growth in check, enabling corals to flourish. In the past, fisherman did not target the grazing fish; rather, they caught mainly snappers and groupers. It was only when these species declined that they turned to the next tier of the food web, and parrotfish began to disappear.
WCS research from Glover’s Reef show that parrotfish are now the most commonly caught fish on this part of the Belize Barrier Reef Reserve System. As a consequence, coral cover has declined. Marine researchers expect that the new laws protecting parrotfish and other grazers will help the corals recover.”
To anyone who has spent time on our island, this will read as a bit of an understatement, but for those of you who have yet to experience the unique underwater reef environment at Glover’s Atoll, let it be said that it holds many rare and surprising creatures.
For example, according to this 1973 scientific paper in Copiea, the journal of the American Society of Ichthyologists and Herpetologists, 20 individual specimens of an entirely new species of toadfish, Triathalassothia gloverensis, were discovered at Glover’s Reef.
Obviously, adventure sports is the main stay of life on the island, but don’t underestimate the attraction of learning about the many strange and fascinating creatures that live there. After a day of surfing, kiteboarding, and kayaking, there’s plenty of talk around the dinner table about catching big air and the longest ride of the day, but one of the biggest surprises to me during my visit was how excited everyone was to dig into the numerous books available on tropical sea life and learn the “sport” of fish identification.
Of course, when you spend your day staring down someone as handsome as this guy, it’s no wonder everyone gets excited.