reef fish identification
Yellow Headed Jawfish by David Gottlieb

On our island, Long Caye at Glover’s Reef in Belize, we go snorkeling every day. Belize is located on the Western edge of the Caribbean Sea, and we have all of the Caribbean fish that dwell in other parts of the Caribbean. All of our guides know their fish, and when we take you snorkeling we are pointing out all of the various species and sub-species during the snorkel.

Every night on the island someone from our staff does a short talk on something interesting like the history of Slickrock, or the underwater geology of Glover’s Reef, or, the #1 favorite, Reef Fish Identification. During this talk we introduce many of the fish we see on a daily basis. One of our motivations for giving this talk is if we can get you to recognize the common stuff you always see, like Sergeant Major, French Angelfish, Queen Angelfish, Black Durgeon, Yellow Head Wrasse, Dusky Damselfish, and many others, then you will know it when you see something rare. Also, during the talk we introduce different fish behaviors so that you not only learn to notice exactly what the fish looks like, but also, just what are they doing anyway?

One of the most interesting fish in the Caribbean Sea is the Yellow Headed Jawfish. This is a long, thin fish that has a bright yellow face which fades to white on the rest of their body. They are hard to spot because they are so lightly colored that they blend into the white coral sand bottom. Also they spend their time hovering above a small tunnel that leads to their underground home, and as soon as they are disturbed, they back down into the hole, which makes them even harder to see.

When you do see one you might wonder how did they find a hole so perfectly round? The answer is they didn’t find it, they built it! The next obvious question is, how does one “build” a home when you don’t have any arms? Good question! The answer is – with your mouth!

The illustration below is from one of the all time best fish books, Reef Fish Behavior by Paul Humann and Ned Deloach (now out of print, available on Amazon used).

In this illustration you can see how the fish makes his house, by moving rocks with his mouth!

How to build a house when you don't have arms
How to build a house when you don’t have arms

Maryann Izzarelli just returned from a week on our Belize island. She just wrote to me and said it was “was by far the best experience of my life” ! Wow, thanks Maryann. You know we just love to hear that.

She had a surprise encounter with a spotted eagle ray that she caught on video! What a video! She described what happened:

“I was on a lazy snorkel with a couple friends around the lagoon off the island in Belize when magic happened. Rays have always been my favorite, but I was never interested in swimming in a controlled environment, where the water was chummed, trained, etc. I was just swimming along enjoying the scenery and here out of nowhere was my unicorn. 🙂 We ended up spending about 10 minutes swimming together, I would stop or slow down and the ray would circle around and I’d swim above. I can NOT describe this experience and wish the footage was better but I just wanted to live the moment. You can’t tell but he was huge and absolutely stunning.”

spotted eagle ray
An unforgettable experience!

4_snorkel copy

The snorkeling on Glover’s Reef at Long Caye is world class.

The Water

  • Warm: around 80-degrees. This not only makes it comfortable, but also extends the time of your dives. Many tropical vacation spots famous for snorkeling have cooler water.
  • Visibility: our water is crystal clear, typically you can see 100 feet or more. Part of that is due to the fact that Glover’s Reef lies 35 miles off the coast, away from the intense human activities that can cloud the water. Many snorkel vacation spots are close to civilization with consequently cloudier water.
  • Buoyant: The salinity content of the Caribbean is significantly higher than that encountered in the open ocean. That means you float higher in the water. You can relax and expend less energy.

The Reef:

  • Glover’s Reef Atoll stands in the middle of the Caribbean, away from the coastline and in the flow of open sea currents. Yet with the fringe reef on its outer edge protecting the 36 square miles of inner “lagoon,” its waters are much calmer than the surrounding open ocean.
  • Inside this protected zone lie over 700 coral patch reefs to explore at easily reachable depths usually less than 20 feet.
  • spotted_eagle_rayNourished by the ocean currents, protected by the fringe reef (and a special environmental designation – Glover’s Reef Marine Reserve and World Heritage Site) the coral reef ecosystem is pristine. That means the marine life is plentiful, diverse and healthy, providing an endlessly engaging diving experience that brings meaning to the word “awesome” – you will be in awe.

Snorkeling Tips:

In order to get the most from your snorkeling experience, it is important to be prepared. That’s why each and every guest on Adventure Island is asked to attend Snorkeling Orientation almost immediately after we arrive on Long Caye. Here’s a checklist of snorkeling tips that we use in our class:

  • Have a clear plan or snorkeling itinerary before taking off.
  • Stay aware of your group’s location while in the water, especially when crossing any channels or open passages.
  • Bring a dive buoy! Boats can be a hazard in open channels. Stay aware!
  • Remain aware of where your group’s leader or guide is at all times.
  • In putting on your mask, remember to keep your hair away from the seal. 
  • Men with mustaches will want to use Vaseline to get a tight seal on mask. 
  • If you have the built in shoe-type of swim fin, you will want to walk backward when out of the water.
  • Fial BLZ 03 IMG 1416At Adventure Island we like to emphasize floating. Rather than always swimming along on the surface or diving down, try simply floating in one spot using the snorkel to breath and the mask to look down and around. It is relaxing, it conserves your energy and also allows you to become more observant. Sometimes you can miss really cool things because you are moving along past and don’t see them.
  • When in a tight group, use your arms to move yourself rather than your legs. That way, people won’t kick each other in the face. If you get nervous about staying afloat, think about wearing a lifejacket. It might make you more relaxed and allow you to enjoy your dive more.
  • Leg cramps are common. If you start to feel a cramp coming on, get assistance. Take off one fin, float and massage the leg. Don’t panic. The situation is manageable. Get yourself to shallow water (to stand up) or get a floatation device (lifejacket or kayak) ASAP. For bad leg cramps your buddy may need to take your fins so that you can swim back to shore without them.
  • On Long Caye, we don’t wear gloves because we do not touch the coral. For one, it’s dangerous (fire coral can sting) and it’s bad for the coral (oils from skin can kill individual cells).
  • Avoid stirring up sand with your fins as you swim as once stirred up, it suffocates coral.
  • Wear a dive skin if you have one (also called hydroskin, swim tights, and rashguard). 
    • We regularly snorkel for an hour or more, and although the water is 80 degrees, it is not 98.6. With a skin you can dive or snorkel much longer. Without one, you will likely want to quit after 20 minutes.
    • And because you are on the surface of the water much of the time, windchill is also a factor.
    • A full-body skin or suit also greatly reduces sunburn.
    • Also it is impossible to predict when marine stinging creatures will be present, and a tight-fitting dive skin protects you from them. Our most common stinging creature is pica-pica, a thimble jellyfish larvae. They arrive in a swarm, like dust in the air; there is no avoiding them when they show up. There is no schedule they adhere to, sometimes we won’t see any for months, then suddenly there they are, two times in one week. A full body suit protects you from their sting.
  • Do not use sunscreen on face above nose level. Sunscreen washed into your eyes can develop into a fist aid emergency.

We love it when our guests share photos from their visit to Adventure Island. Gert and Kathy Walter of Boxboro, MA were out to the island March 5 – 10 and shared these lovely pics from their snorkel dives. The photos of the bonefish are especially amazing. Wow!

Our resident school of bonefish above the seagrass
Our resident school of bonefish above the seagrass (click the image to see it fullscreen!)

The fact that we have so many different water sports out on Adventure Island means that no matter what the weather in Belize is like on a given day, there are always some of the sports that are perfectly suited for those conditions.

 If the winds are blowing but the surf isn’t up, the conditions are ideal for windsurfing and kiteboarding. If the surf is up but the wind is calm, it’s ideal for surfing, kayak surfing, and stand-up paddleboard surfing. If both the wind and surf are down, those are perfect conditions for sea kayaking, snorkeling and diving.

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!

If you’ve ever wondered what our guests experience while visiting Long Caye in Belize, this 35 min. video, shot by one of our guests and posted on Youtube last October, is a true, full immersion experience. The clarity of the photography is amazing, especially the close-ups of the reef and associated marine life through the crystal clear water.

 

snorkel belizeOne of our guests who is going on an upcoming trip just sent me a link to LeisurePro.com. They have the best deal I have ever seen on a full body dive skin: $26.95!!!!

It looks like a great skin. I computed the shipping and UPS ground to Moab would be $7.45. Really really a good deal. She also sent a report on it: “Just wanted to update you that the diveskins arrived today- (so fast!) and they are great- comfortable and fit perfectly!”

We recommend a full body skin for snorkeling or diving in Belize for 3 reasons: (1) sunburn (you don’t realize you are getting fried when snorkeling, Belize is at 17 degrees north of the equator, twice as close as the middle of the US) (2) warmth, even though the water is about 80 degrees, it’s not 98.6, and you do get cold eventually. We regularly snorkel for a hour or more. If you don’t have some kind of clothing on you won’t be able to snorkel that long (3) there are sometimes stinging creatures in the water and a tight skin protects you from that.

Our most common stinging creature is Pica-Pica, the larvae of the sea thimble jellyfish. They arrive unannounced in a swarm. There is no common schedule and no avoiding them once they show up. If you don’t have a skin on and don’t treat with vinegar if you do get stung, they created a very itchy rash that lasts for days.

So a shorty wetsuit is better than nothing, but full body coverage is even better. This is a GREAT deal!