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Belize Barrier Reef

belize barrier reef

The Belize Barrier Reef – A World Heritage Site

When you stay at Banyan Bay, you will be located in the heart of Ambergris Caye, one of the most popular tourist destinations in Belize. One of the reasons why Ambergris Caye is such a popular tourist destination is that it is located in close proximity to the famous Belize Barrier Reef.

One of the most diverse ecosystems on the planet, the Belize Barrier Reef is an incredible place for scuba diving, snorkeling and get back in touch with nature. Home to a plethora of plants and animals, the reef is protected by the Belize Barrier Reef Reserve System which includes seven marine reserves, 450 cayes, and three atolls. It totals 960 km²  in area, including Glover’s Reef Marine Reserve, the great Blue Hole, Halfmoon Caye Natural Monument, and Hol Chan Marine Reserve.

What the Belize Barrier Reef Offers

Approximately 70 different hard coral species and 36 soft coral species have been discovered and identified at the barrier reef and over 500 species of fish and invertebrates live in the area. However, it is believed that only about 10 percent of the species have been discovered, and there may be hundreds or even thousands of additional species that still need to be researched.

The coral reef itself spans across 300 kilometers and is part of the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef System, which is the largest in the western hemisphere, spanning 900 kilometers long. With its size, the Belize Barrier Reef is second to only the Great Barrier Reef in Australia and is one of the most popular tourist attraction for those who are planning a trip to Belize.

School of creole wrasse

The Belize Coral Reef

Coral reefs are actually gigantic living organisms that grow best in seas where the nutrient density is very low. Most reefs are hard and “stony” in appearance because living coral animals exude an exoskeleton of calcium carbonate similar to the shells of oysters and clams.

Coral reefs thrive in relatively shallow water that is transparent, where there is abundant sunshine, and the water is continuously in motion. Over time, the coral’s hard exoskeleton gets broken up and then formed into piles by the motion of waves. New coral animals then begin to grow on this foundation, creating a reef environment that supports a wide array of other forms of animal and plant life.

Many people refer to coral reefs as the “rainforests of the sea” due to their important role as diverse biospheres and their impact on the environment. Although far less than 1% of the world’s oceans contain coral reefs, these “rainforests” are home to a quarter of all marine species, including sponges, fish, shellfish, rays, sharks, and echinoderms.

Coral reefs also serve as breakers to protect nearby shorelines, as hatcheries and nurseries for fish, and are vital for tourism. The United Nations has estimated that coral reefs contribute $30 billion to the global economy. Although reefs appear to be durable, they are actually quite fragile. Changes in the water temperature of the ocean, the acidification of the ocean, destructive fishing practices like cyanide and blast fishing, runoff from agriculture, and the over-harvesting of fish for use in aquariums can all threaten the survival of coral reefs. Agricultural runoff is particularly dangerous because it adds too many nutrients to the water, causing some forms of algae to multiply out of control and prevent the living coral from accessing the sunlight that they need to grow.

Coral Reef Formation

Around 10,000 years ago as the last Ice Age began to dwindle, sea levels started rising. Coral reefs that were already established began to grow towards the surface to keep pace with the rising sea levels. Only coral reefs that manage to stay near the surface were able to survive.

Coral Reef Biology

Coral are animals that secrete a hard stony substance that surrounds them much like the shell of a mollusk. As coral continue to grow upwards towards the ocean’s surface, they leave behind the hard calcium carbonate stony substance. As waves, sponges, sea urchins, and fish make contact with the coral, small fragments are broken off. These fragments then begin to compact and settle into the existing reef, forming a habitat for a wide variety of marine flora and fauna.

One of the most important factors for healthy coral reef formation is the growth of a type of algae known as coralline algae. As the algae grows, it works much like a binder, covering the surface of the reef and making it more resistant to waves and other destructive forces.

10 Belize Barrier Reef Facts You Should Know

The Belize Barrier Reef is one of the most beautiful and majestic ecosphere on the planet. Comprising mangrove forests, estuaries, sandy islands, atolls, and coast lagoons, the Belize Barrier Reef is one of the most popular destinations in Belize. Officially part of the larger Mesoamerican Reef System, the Belize Barrier Reef is one of the few double barrier reefs in the world.

Below are 10 Belize Barrier Reef facts that you should know:

1.)  The Belize Barrier Reef is the second largest coral reef in the world and was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1996.

2.) There are seven protected marine reserve areas inside the reef, compromising about 12% of the total area of the Belize Barrier Reef.

3.) Several endangered animals inhabit the Belize Barrier Reef, including sea turtles, manatees, and the American marine crocodile.

4.) Charles Darwin visited the Belize Barrier Reef during his historic journey around the world aboard the HMS Beagle.

5.) More than 500 fish species inhabit the Belize Barrier Reef, including grouper, porcupine fish, tarpon, barracuda, jewfish, cowfish, frogfish and yellowtail snapper.

6.) The Belize Barrier Reef is home to rare species like the hammerhead shark and jaguars. It is also home to animals like the spotted eagle ray, whale shark, killer whales, dolphins, conches, seahorses, eels, upsidedown jellyfish and octopuses.

7.) The Belize Barrier Reef is the location of the Belize Blue Hole, rated by Jacques Cousteau as one of the top 10 places to dive on the planet.

8.) There are major bird colonies on the islands and atolls of the Belize Barrier Reef, including that of the red-footed booby, the common noddy, the masked booby and the brown booby. The reef is also home to brown pelicans, shorebirds, plovers, the olive throated parakeet, frigatebirds, ospreys, Great Blue Herons, laughing gulls, and double-crested cormorants.

9.) The Belize Barrier Reef is one of just two living organisms big enough to be seen from space.

10.) The Belize Barrier Reef is home to more than 350 species of shellfish and countless numbers of sponges, worms, and more than 100 species of coral.

Belize Barrier Reef the Largest in the Hemisphere

How to Explore the Belize Barrier Reef

The Belize Barrier Reef has so much to offer you on your trip to Belize, and you may spend several days or more out on the reef with a scuba diving or snorkeling trip. If you are thinking about snorkeling or scuba diving while on your vacation, rest assured that the team at Banyan Bay will assist you in making all of your travel plans. Tours and excursion planning is just one of the many services that the team at Banyan Bay offers so that you can have the experience of a lifetime while on your Belize vacation.

While there are many tropical destinations in the Caribbean that you could visit, you can see that a trip to Banyan Bay in Belize puts you in a strategic location for enjoying one of the most beautiful and largest natural barrier reefs in the world. If you are ready to plan your next vacation, contact Banyan Bay today.