General Diving Information for Belize
Our very existence, the future of life as we know it, rests on the successful conservation of the sea and its creatures. The sea cannot continue to dilute pollution forever, so wemust not add to this problem by thoughtless behavior. In the same way, the coral reef cannot stand a constant barrage of damage from anchors and divers forever.
Few appreciate the sea and its life as much as divers, and it is our responsibility to minimize any impact divers' excursions may have. Below are a few simple guidelines to help prevent damage to the marine environment:
When divers are actively diving from a boat, a dive flag should be raised. A rigid flag or one held open by a stiff wire is preferred to a cloth flag which can only be viewed on a windy day. Two patterns of dive flag will be seen in Belize. The most common is the red and white flag used in the United States. Occasionally the international blue and white "A" flag will also be seen. Both flags have the same meaning: "I have divers down. Keep well clear at slow speed."
A typical two-day offshore trip would have a program something like this:
TIDES, WAVES AND WIND
The wind is mostly steady from the northeast at 5 to 15 knots, except in the south where southeast winds are frequent. The northeast winds generate large Caribbean swells which can make diving difficult on exposed shores.
While wave action inside the reef or on the sheltered side of atolls is minimal, divers must still be cautious of the surge when close to the reef and near the surface.
The sea breaking over the reef crest allows the skipper of a boat to see the extent of the reef. On those occasions when the sea is flat calm, an additional hazard is present for small boats as the edge of the reef becomes hard to define.
Explanations for some of the more common topography are listed below
Caye: A caye is an island of sand and/or mangrove which is a permanent feature above the surface, but is not a reef crest.
Coral: The conditions for coral growth and the long term development of the reef are considered near perfect in Belize. Clear water, sunlight, water temperature, a firm substrate, salinity levels and the constant circulation of well-oxygenated water all play a vital role in the process.
While the corals are typical of the Caribbean they tend to be especially well developed. There are many varieties of corals, but the major reef-building ones are the massive forms of brain coral; various types of finger coral; two well-known branching corals, elkhorn and staghorn; and sheet coral.
Cut: A navigable gap between two reef crests.
Patch Reef: These are small clumps of coral heads on a shallow sandy bottom. They are particularly common inside Glover's and Lighthouse Reefs and at the southern end of the barrier reef. In most cases they are too shallow for scuba diving, but are excellent places to snorkel.
Reef Crest: Underwater the barrier reef or any of the atoll reefs are a single entity, although at the surface they appear broken. That part of the reef which reaches the surface is the reef crest and each of these has an individual name, often adopted from the nearest caye.
Reef Wall: Both the barrier reefs and the atoll reefs fall away vertically into the abyss. This reef wall or drop-off is most dramatic when it faces east.
THE BELIZE BARRIER REEF
The Belize Barrier Reef actually begins at a point 5 miles (8 km) north of Belize near the small Mexican town of Xcalak. The reef then stretches south for 185 miles (298 km) before coming to an end near Hunting Caye.
The reef is like a gigantic wall running parallel to the coast. The distance from the reef to the mainland varies from 8 to 16 miles (1326 km), but is much closer at the northern portion off Ambergris Caye where it is clearly seen from the shore. Between the mainland and the reef are shallow sandy waters with numerous mangrove-covered islands (cayes).
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