Belize Barrier Reef

A 190-mile long section of the second largest reef system in the world, the Belize Barrier Reef includes 7 marine reserves, 350 cayes and 3 atolls. Located in the Caribbean Sea and declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1996 due to the unique array of pristine natural habitats. The diversity of life is abundant from the moment you look below the surface.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA A Loggerhead Turtle with Jack Fish & Blue Tang

Blue Stripped Grunt Blue Stripped Grunts, Sea Rod & Boulder Star coral

Blue Stripped Grunt leaving for school. Blue Stripped Grunts leaving for school.

There are many cayes in the Caribbean Sea surrounding Belize. Caye pronounced 'key' is a small island typically formed in the presence of coral reefs. Currents, winds, and storms move sand, coral, and other bits of sea matter that eventually settle, building a shelf. Over time, a tiny island or caye emerges from the depths. Plants and other life begin to colonize the exposed surface. There are many cayes that are ideal vacation destinations along the Belize Barrier Reef. Some like Ambergris Caye are more developed with resorts, fine dining restaurants, and world-class shopping and others are on 'go slow' island time. Cody and I opted for the no cars, people riding bikes relaxed atmosphere of Caye Caulker. We arrived by water taxi from the capital city and walked less than a block to our brightly painted hotel, Seaside Cabanas.

IMG_1279 (1) Some cayes are uninhabited.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Mangroves usually appear along the edges of a caye in shallow lagoon waters. Below the water's surface is evidence of sand and other sea material build up.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Seaside Cabanas, our hotel with attractive room interiors and a pleasant view

The next morning we arranged a half day speed boat trip to snorkel several areas along the barrier reef with EZ Boy Tours. Our friend Phil from Carmelita Gardens recommended the tour company. A local tour guide, Harry, promptly met Cody and I upon arrival helping us to our hotel and arranging the tour for the next day. The 5 hour trip included a local plate lunch (order the barracuda, delish), fruit, drinks, and 5 stops to see manatees, nurse sharks, a sunken barge, turtles feasting on sea grass and finally Hol Chan Marine Reserve. Hol Chan is Mayan for 'little channel'. Our guide swam the 45-minute loop showing us caves, a moray eel and other unique treasures of the sea. Amazingly, he did it without a snorkel, swimming and freediving the entire time.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA The Barrier Reef is over a mile from shore and it was windy on the water!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA We recommend EZ Boy Tours- friendly local folks, good prices, and great guides.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA A manatee came from the depths to check us out. Apparently they have poor eye site and the massive sea cow came right up to us. Yikes!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Nurse sharks in Shark Alley. Some boats feed the sharks, so they come close thinking there will be food. Our guide asked if we wanted to get in the water and swim a wide circle around. Uhh, no thank you. But I did touch one as it swam under the boat and it felt like rough grit sand paper.

Free diving the sunken barge, now an artificial reef

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Looking from aft to bow, we were warned to pay attention to currents and not to touch.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Our guide pointing to a cave filled with a school of large fish.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA A Large Green Moray Eel typically found at depths of 30-40 feet and at least 6 feet in length. Yikes again!

The profusion of sea life, both flora and fauna, was extraordinary. Protection of ocean habitats under a marine reserve designation is vital to the health of our planet. In less than 20 years, the Belize Barrier Reef has rebounded and life is plentiful. The animals are unafraid and in many cases curious coming close as if inspecting you. We felt like welcomed visitors to an underwater world. The local guides were advocates for marine sanctuaries and Belize is strict about tourism along the barrier reef system. I highly recommend snorkeling and/or diving this rich underwater biodiversity. Everything pictured here was observed during a 3-hour period. All the diving I have experienced throughout my life has not equaled this variety, and that includes living in Hawaii, California, and Mexico. When Cody and I relate our experiences to friends and family, many say they have always wanted to visit Belize. Go. You won't be disappointed. Just a few more pictures to share.


Living, growing coral, like swimming in an aquarium.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Life under the sargassum seaweed. Learn more in our post about the Sargasso Sea.





Jennifer Trandell

Hello Wayne, Yes the reef has rebounded. When reefs are protected from fishing and the abundance of boats, dropped anchors, and tourism, then the biomass explodes. Unfortunately there is vast quantities of oil under the MesoAmerican reef and not all areas are protected. Who knows what the future will hold.

Wayne Garrity
The New York Times frequently has articles about deteriorating conditions on the Great Barrier Reef in Australia. Is the reef(s) in Belize truly healthy? Do you see large, magnificent formations of elkhorn and staghorn coral for example or massive numbers of colorful fish?

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