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TheBelize Barrier Reef Reserve System lies about half a mile off the winward side of the island. It is the longest barrier reef in the Western Hemisphere and the second longest in the world.

To the east of the Barrier Reef are three separate atoll reefs. There is also a fourth atoll reef, Banco Chinchorro, just to the north in Mexican waters, which will be of particular interest to wreck divers.

The three Belize atoll reefs are formed on two tiers of submarine ridges: Turneffe and Glover's on one ridge and Lighthouse on a separate ridge farther to the east. This accounts for their similar outlines and NE-SW orientations. Deep marine trenches separate the two ridges.

Flying south into Belize, you can see the reef as an unbroken chain of white surf running along the Caribbean coast of the Yucatan Peninsula and continuing south almost the whole length of the country to the Ranguana and Sapodilla Cayes.

Click Below For Features
Maps & Local Dive/Snorkeling Sites
General Diving & Snorkeling Info
Underwater photos
Animals of the Reef
Reef Briefs
Reef Information
Hol Chan Marine Reserve
Shark Ray Alley/ Hol Chan Pics
Pics from Belize Atolls Trip
Ambergris Caye Field Guide
Turneffe Islands
Lighthouse Reef
Great Blue Hole
Species Frequency Reports
Belize Barrier Reef
National Parks
Click below for articles
The Urchin is Lurchin’
Why Wetlands?
The White-out Effect: Coral Bleaching
Horses of the Sea
Calling all Recruits!
As Smart as a Cephalopod
Croc Out of Water!
The Peculiar Parrotfish
A Three Course Meal
Whale Shark Wonder
Getting to Know Bonefish
Nassau Groupers Morphology and Life History
All about sponges – and more
Jelly Attack!
Angelfish: Beauties of the Reef
Environmental Education: Why is it important?
Working Towards Sustainable Management of Nassau Groupers in Belize
Corals Need Sunscreen Too?
Fish Communication
Marine Biodiversity: What is it…and why it is so important?
Whale Sharks
Green Reef study shows Grouper numbers declining
Nassau Groupers: Morphology and Life History
What is Green Reef Doing? - by Jill Hepp
Thank You, San Pedro
All About Shrimp
Sea Urchin- Don't Tread on Them
Sea Cucumbers- Vacuuming up the Ocean Floor
Thank you, San Pedro, for another successful Reef Festival
Starfish, Simple, Slow, but Significant Marine Creatures
Glowworms- By the Light of the Full Moon
The Feistiest of Reef Fish- Damselfish
Wetlands- More Than Meets the Eye
All about Pica Pica
Every Day is Earth Day
Fighting to Protect the Manatees of Belize
Pelicans- Amazing Dive Bombers of the Sea
Billfish - Giants Among Fish
Going With the Flow
Dragonflies-The "Mosquito Hawk" of the Tropics
Spinner Dolphins- Entertainers of the Sea
The Food Chain Gang
A Day Out at the Bird Cayes
The Elusive Whale Shark
Reef Balls - Repairing the Coral Reef Ecosystem
Why Do We Need To Save The Reef?
The Cleaner Wrasse - Helping to Keep Fish Parasite Free
Barracuda-Fish with a "Bad Rep"
Surgeonfish-Sharp as a Razor
Phytoplankton - A Critical Link in a Big Chain
In the Red-Explaining the Red Tide Phenomenon
The Island Ecosystem of Ambergris Caye
All about sponges - and more
Things are Heating Up
Manta Rays - The Gentle Giants
The Peculiar Parrotfish
Loggerhead Sea Turtles - Raising the Odds
Conch in Crisis
The Hidden Poison- Lead
The Struggle of the Nassau Grouper
Green Reef educates teachers
The Healing Qualities of the Sea
Lookout for the Manatees
How Hurricanes Impact The Reef
Marine Protected Areas - Who Benefits?
Jellyfish - Beyond the Sting
Plantains or Plankton - Where's the Balance?
Octopuses, the "Brains" of the sea
Belize's Gold, The Caribbean Spiny Lobster
Proposed Bird Sanctuary Expansion
Seahorse - Here to Stay?
Fish Facts
The Agile residents of San Pedro: The Bottlenose Dolphins
All about Eels
Rainforest of the Sea
Coral Reproduction
The Importance of Mangroves
Seagrass Beds: A Valuable Ecosystem
The Gentle Creature, the Manatee
Sea Turtles of Belize
Coral Bleaching - What does it mean for the Reef?
The State of Coral Reefs Worldwide
`Tis the Season for Pica Pica
Pollution in San Pedro
Animals of the Reef
Working Relationships of the Reef
Disappearing Crocodiles
Algae and the Reef
The "Birds of the Deep Sea"- Rays
Sharks - Friend or Foe?
Those Gorgeous Mermaids
Reef Zones: Ecosystems that are Inseparably Connected
The Hidden Treasures of the Coast
Marine Protected Areas
Coastal Zone Management Project
World Heritage Sites
Reef Briefs
Green Reef

For extensive information on the plant and animal life in the reefs, CLICK HERE.

For information on the Meso-American Barrier-Reef System (MBRS) Project, click here.

Inside the reef the water is shallow, with a blue tinge; outside the reef the water is deep and from the air shows a dark royal blue. On very clear days the reef appears as a narrow yellow line dividing the two shades of blue. Only near Ambergris Caye does the reef run so close to a well-populated caye. Here it is an almost so!id wall of magnificent coral formation broken only by narrow channels called "quebradas". Here an observant diver can be kept entertained for hours on end by the unending variety, shapes and colours ofthe tropical coral.

But the Belize Barrier Reef Reserve System is more than just a decorative sideshow. Without it the island would not exist for it serves as a natural break-water protecting the beach from erosion by the waves, and sheltering the caye and its inhabitants. The remarkably clear and shallow water inside the reef allows excellent viewing of the fabulous marine life of the area. Rainbow tinged tropical fish, delicate sea fans and majestic coral gardens abound. Outside the reef, the seabed drops sharply in a series of plateau to depths of thousands of feet. Out here in the blue are found the gamefish - mackerel, kingfish, wahoo, tuna, sailfish and marlin.

Although it looks Iike dead stone, the reef is in fact a living wall formed by millions of coral organisms. These coral are carnivorous animals, known as polyps, which eat small sea creatures that float by, capturing them with stinging tentacles. They feed, however, only at night, pulling their tentacles back into the skeleton during the day. Within the reef skeleton live minute blue green algae. These give off oxygen which the coral polyps breathe; the algae, in turn absorb the carbon dioxide which the polyps give off, forming thus a genuine symbiotic relationship. Coral are multicoloured varying from gold to red, orange, green, brown and yellow The soft, living tube shaped coral polyp protects itself by forming a hard layer of calcium carbonate called the corallite. Colonies ofthese polyps form the structure of the coral reef growing in strange and exotic shapes that give the different varieties their popular names, such as brain coral, staghorn coral and elkhorn coral.

The reef needs two factors to survive - solar energy and chemical nutrients. The nutrients flow into the sea as plant and animal organic material from rivers and creeks on the mainland and on the caye itself The organic material is broken down into its chemical derivates by bacteria and other microorganisms, thus providing the nutrients necessary for reef growth.

The warm clear water off the coast of Belize, fed as it is by various mainland rivers and streams, form an excellent environment for the reef.

The entire island of Ambergris in fact probably resulted from the accumulation of coral fragments along with silt from the Rio Hondo. The report of the British Honduras Land Use Survey Team of l959 notes: "The connected chains of coral islands known as Ambergris Caye was formed from the accumulation of coral fragments...first as a shoal patch. These shoals tend to build up in long lines parallel to the coast of the mainland. It is thought that their orientation may be connected with submarine geological strata rather than being entirely the work of sea currents."

The preceeding article was excerpted from the book Ambergris Caye, Paradise With A Past, published by Cubola Productions of Benque Viejo del Carmen and written by the Honourable Glenn D. Godfrey, Area Representative from Belize Rural South. It is available in local bookstores.

For more on coral, click here....

For information on diving a little north at Banco Chinchorro, click here....

View a photo gallery of the Belize Barrier Reef Reserve System, click here....

Here are a few acrobat pdf's with lots of interesting information:

Visitor / Guest Water Safety Tips

Ambergris Caye relies heavily on boats for transportation not only around the island itself but for inter island travel, mainland travel, transportation of cargo and of course tourism. When Swimming or snorkeling on Ambergris Caye please

BEWARE OF BOAT TRAFFIC and follow these safety guidelines:

1) Swim/snorkel between docks and in designated swim areas when available.

2) Do not attempt to swim out to the reef.

3) Consider not wearing jewelry when snorkeling or swimming.

4) If any vessel is heading in your direction signal to make yourself visible.

5) Use a life vest or diver down buoy for visibility when snorkeling or swimming.

6) Touching coral, plant life and dock posts may cause extreme allergic reactions.

7) Always have someone watching when snorkeling or swimming at night.

8) Do not dive from docks as there could be shallow water or obstructions under water.

9) Pay attention to the wind speed and direction when kayaking away from shore.

10) A kayak and/or paddle are useful to make yourself visible while in the water.

11) Your belongings should not be left unattended on the beach or dock.

We want your vacation on Ambergris Caye to be a memorable and enjoyable one so please be safe while exploring our natural wonders.

Related Links:

The amazing photograph of the dolphins in the slideshow at the top of the page is by Martin Spragg. It was taken at Gladden Spit.

Click here for information on coral bleaching
Click here for Reef Check Info on the condition of reefs worldwide.

For more information, follow these links:
Diving on Ambergris Caye
Map and Info About Local Dive and Snorkeling Sites
Underwater Photos of Local Diving

The Barrier Reef off Ambergris Caye, Belize

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