General Diving Information for Belize

A well-known British politician once said, "We have not inherited the sea from our parents, we have borrowed it from our children.'

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:

  • Do not throw any non-biodegradables into the ocean.
  • If you see trash on the sea floor, bring it up.
  • Anchor only on sandy patches to avoid breaking coral which has taken hundreds of years to grow.
  • Practice good neutral buoyancy to keep from banging into the reef and thus inadvertently causing damage to coral.
  • Secure any dangling straps and be conscious of where your fins are.
  • If your neutral buoyancy skills are weak, take a refresher before diving the reef.
  • Divers without gloves will be less inclined to touch marine life. Set a good example for other divers and leave your dive gloves in your equipment bag.
  • Divers should not remove any living creature from the sea including shells, shellfish, fish and coral.
  • Do not buy jewelry or souvenirs made from turtle shells. It is illegal to bring them into the United States.
Click Below For Features
Main Dive Page
Underwater photos
Reef Information
Hol Chan Marine Reserve
Shark Ray Alley/ Hol Chan Pics
Ambergris Caye Field Guide
Diving the Ambergris Caye Area
Turneffe Islands
Lighthouse Reef
Pics from Belize Atolls Trip
Great Blue Hole
Species Frequency Reports
Belize Barrier Reef
National Parks
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:

 Day One
 6:30 A.M.       Depart San Pedro
 9:00 A.M.       Dive northern Turneffe Islands
 12:30P.M.       Dive Long Caye, Lighthouse Reef
 3:00 P.M.       Dive Half Moon Caye Lighthouse Reef
 Night           On Half Moon Caye with a
                 bar-b-que and visit to the bird
 Day Two
 7:00 A.M.       Depart Half Moon Caye
 9:00 A.M.       Dive the Great Blue Hole
 3:00 P.M.       Dive northern Turneffe Islands
                 (different site)
 4:30 P.M.       Arrive San Pedro

Diving is generally conducted without any reference to the tide as the average range is only about 1 to 1-1/2 feet (31- 46 cm). When the north winds really blow, this can be in excess of 2 feet (62 cm). Of course, hurricanes and other tropical storms can cause tidal extremes. Currents are usually negligible.

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.

Blue holes, as they are known throughout the Caribbean, are common in several countries, but the largest one of all is right in the center of Lighthouse Reef and is known as The Great Blue Hole. Formed in the limestone substrata, they are officially called "karst-eroded sinkholes" and were created prior to the melting which ended the Great Ice Age, when sea levels were much lower than today. Caves, caverns, tunnels, stalactites and stalagmites are common along the entire Belize shelf.

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.

Many of the natural circumstances which contrive to reduce underwater visibility do not exist in Belize. It is because the reef is between 8 to 16 miles (13-26 km) offshore (except at Ambergris Caye) that it is not affected by river outflow and rainfall washing off the land. In addition, the strong currents created by large tidal ranges are non-existent in the Caribbean. With very few exceptions, such as diving close to mangroves, the underwater visibility is always at its maximum for anywhere in the world- 165 feet (50 m). Beyond this distance the water is simply blue. The effects of storms elsewhere in the Caribbean can, however, reduce the visibility to between 65 feet (20 m) and 100 feet (30 m).

The water temperature is fairly constant throughout the year and is generally in the mid to high 70's F (23-26 C), but can reach the low 80's F (26-28 C. A lightweight lycra body suit, more for protection from coral abrasions than for warmth, is a good solution. For those needing more thermal protection a 1/16th inch (4 mm) suit should be adequate.

A large and complicated system of individual reefs extends from the Yucatan Peninsula to South America. The largest of these reefs is the Belize Barrier Reef. Not only is this the largest single reef in the Caribbean; it is also the largest reef in both the northern and western hemispheres. in fact it is second only in size to the Great Barrier Reef of Australia.

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).

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

Commons Island Community History Visitor Center Goods & Services Search Messages AIM Info

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