GLOVER'S REEF MARINE RESERVE
Its boundary is defined as the 100 fathom contour around the atoll, and this is not accurately known. Within this limitation, coordinates are given for the comers of each of the zones which go to make up the reserve.
The SI itself does not specify the area of the reserve, but when the coordinates are plotted on GIS, the calculation gives 81237 acres.
PHYSICAL FEATURES & CLIMATE
EMERALD FOREST REEF
Emerald Forest Reef is a new dive site along a stretch of virgin reef that forms Glover's western limb. It is located about 7 miles from both the light on Glover's northeast end, and from the northern most group of cayes on the atoll's east side. Here, the reef slopes uniformly to the west from its crest to a sloping wall.
The water is only 1 ft deep above the reef crest and no more than 50 ft below the surface near the wall. The shallow water, lack of currents and marvelous fresh reef make this site an excellent place for new divers or those who have been away from diving for some time. Even snorkelers will find this an excellent spot because the most luxurious and active reef is no more than 25 ft below the surface. Experienced divers will find Emerald Forest equally rewarding, both in the shallows and on the wall.
Emerald Forest is named for its huge elkhorn coral that dominates the reef crest in shallow water. Impressive growths of this coral feature trunks more than 1 ft in diameter and a canopy of branches 10 ft above the reef surface. When the sea is calm look for crabs, reef urchins, brittle starfish and boring sponges among the stands of huge coral.
Just a short distance seaward from the elkhorn stand is an absolutely luxurious coral garden every photographer will want to visit. Every variety of stony coral known to live in shallow water can be photographed in this one area. All are healthy and the dense growth of coral life provides ample shelter for many snappers, groupers, trunkfish and angels. Wrasses and blue chromis are especially abundant.
Divers should also explore the reef along and on the wall. The terrain near the wall is a series of weakly developed coral ridges and shallow sandy gullies. On the ridges sit a fine collection of club finger coral, large brain coral, yellow pencil coral, the ever-present boulder coral and lots of forked sea feathers. This growth of animals houses numerous gobie and shrimp cleaning stations for groupers, bar jacks and parrotfish.
The wall is a good place to look for large lobsters among shingled and platy growths of boulder and sheet coral. There are also large basket, tube, rope sponges and a wide variety of small marine life, all of which make interesting photo subjects.
Named for its characteristic reef development, this dive site features a profile with two distinct reef zones over a distance of about 800 ft. A shallow reef extends from sea level to 40 ft and a deeper reef begins at 70 ft, extending to more than 100 ft at the wall. Between them is a sloping sand flat with a few scattered growths of stony and soft corals.
The shallow reef is a photographer's and videographer's delight. A healthy, colorful and varied growth of corals makes this an ideal place for coral close-ups. Magnificent stands of elkhorn, meandrine brain, large cactus, thin fungus and staghorn coral form crowded coral stands. Colorful sea whips, sea rods, corky sea fingers and Venus sea fans also grace the reef. Movement and additional color are provided by crowds of blue chromis, sergeant majors and blue-headed wrasse that glide over and through the corals. By looking beneath the coral canopy and into some of the countless nooks that riddle the reef, you can find additional tropicals and abundant, brilliantly colored sponges. Because the reef is more than 300 ft wide, a virtually unlimited number of reef organisms can be found. Best of all, you can stay here a long time because most of the reef is less than 30 ft deep.
If you are more impressed by size than variation in marine life, the deep reef is for you. Beginning at depths of 70 ft, a mountainous coral mesa towers as much as 50 ft above the sloping sand flats leading to the wall. Much of the deep reef is built by boulder, lettuce and large-cupped boulder coral and adorned by a variety of deepwater sea whips and rods. An interesting ecological adaptation to low light that you can look for on the deep reef is the development of skirts or platy growths among the boulder corals.
BAKING SWASH REEF
Baking Swash is a narrow cut through the western limb of Glover's atoll. Two weathered tree limbs mark the channel on each side. The cut through the reef is wide and deep enough to accommodate only small, manageable boats with a shallow draft. It is lined with coral and no more than 10 ft deep. Although shallow, narrow and remote, the channel itself can be a dangerous place to dive. Wave and tidal currents are not a problem, but power boats from local resorts use this passage because it is the only cut in the western limb of the atoll. Most captains are familiar with the cut and speed through it with little expectation of divers.
Reef development occurs over a broad, sloping bottom in two zones separated by a sand flat. The shallow reefs grow up to sea level on either side of Baking Swash channel and extend 30 ft below the sea surface. The deep reefs are seaward of a wide sand flat that features only a sparse cover of corals. Huge towers of coral form impressive mounds with up to 50 ft (15 meters) of relief.
Considerable variation exists in the marine life found on the two reef zones. Deep reefs are dominated by huge large-cup boulder coral and elegant growths of deep water lace coral. They are usually not nearly as varied and spectacular as the shallow reefs, so unless you simply want to do a deep dive, it is best to stay on the shallow reefs. Because the visibility is low, macrophotography is probably the best here. Corals are very healthy and varied with most of the Caribbean species of hard and soft corals present.
SOUTHWEST CAYE WALL
Squarely off Southwest Caye's east side and only a short distance from the Manta Resort Pier, you'll find a sloping reef and wall that offer consistently good diving. Both are part of a narrow reef line that forms the southeastern limb of Glover's Reef. Depth increases rapidly away from the reef crest before deepening more gradually a short distance from the wall. Overall the reef has little topography, uneven only near the wall. Here, wedgeshaped coral ridges are separated by wide, shallow sand channels. While doing a safety stop at 10 ft, divers will see all coral wedges border and point away from the wall.
Like many walls on the windward limbs of the atolls, the Southwest Caye Wall is a dramatic drop-off. From its crest at 50 ft, this underwater cliff plunges to 130 ft. A narrow shelf floored by platy boulder coral, a tangle of wire coral and an abundance of sand occur at this depth. From there, the wall resumes its vertical descent to more than 350 ft before changing to a steep slope. Submarine dives made here show invertebrate growth is sparse at these depths.
Shallow parts of the wall have either giant overhangs or are deeply furrowed. Graceful gorgonians, wire coral and some very attractive and photogenic sponges adorn the overhangs, which are ideally suited for pictures with dramatic and colorful compositions. Divers taking pictures beneath an overhang need to remember to plan their pictures in advance so they can avoid lots of breathing while under the overhangs. Otherwise, exhaled bubbles will dislodge enough sediment to make good photography impossible.
Wall diving is an exhilarating experience, but it also means deep diving at Southwest Caye Wall. Unlike some dropoffs elsewhere on these atolls, this one begins at a modest depth and does not allow divers to work their way up to a shallow reef. Check your time and depth frequently and allow plenty of time for your ascent. This way you should have plenty of air left for a slow ascent and a three-minute safety stop at 10 ft.
MIDDLE CAYE REEFS
Located about a third of the way up on the windward southeastern reefs, Middle Caye Reefs is one of the most remote dive sites on Glover's Reef. The site derives its name from the small palm and mangrove covered caye developed behind the reef crest.
Many of the dive boats visit this reef, but it is usually a charter rather than a regularly scheduled run. If you want to dive this area, it is best to check with various live-aboards to determine when they intend to go there, or arrange for a trip to Manta Resort on Southwest Cayes at the extreme southern end of Glover's Reef. Even if you manage to arrange a trip, exceptional conditions are required to actually make the dive. Calm or westerly winds are needed to keep boats from swinging over and crashing into the shallow coral growths of this narrow reef tract. Another problem is large, incoming swells, which are common while storms are blowing in the Gulf and Caribbean. These can make getting back into your dive boat too dangerous for safe diving. But if the conditions are right, this site is well worth it.
Middle Caye Reefs offer some exceptional diving opportunities. A large variety of reef organisms can be found in a limited area because reef zones are condensed on the narrow fore reef. The entire area between the reef crest and wall is only several hundred yards wide. Reef formations are lush and healthy in this zone, with few areas overgrown by fleshy algae. The wall, which crests at 40 ft here, is spectacular and richly adorned with reef organisms. It also differs from wall profiles seen at most other locations because it is terraced at depth. Clear water and minimal currents allow you to see at least two terraces without making a dive below 100 ft. The first terrace at 150 ft and the second terrace at 210 ft are seaward sloping surfaces covered by platy boulder coral. Coral coverage is thorough and gives these terraces the appearance of a shingled roof.
Virtually every kind of invertebrate and a wide variety of fish can be found at Middle Caye. Turtle grass beds with their unique collection of tiny organisms flourish in patches adjacent to the northern and southern shores. Small foraminifera, encrusting red algae and hydrozoans cling to the blades of these grasses, whereas several kinds of clams seek shelter among the plant roots. Turban snails abound in the rocky areas bordering the island. Here large heads of common smooth star, smooth and depressed brain corals and yellow porous coral form isolated growths that are surrounded by coral rubble, much of which is coated with red algae. Exceptional growths of tan lettuce-leaf create shallow coral spurs at 10 ft. Reef urchins, red boring sponges, and many other kinds of organisms hide or live on these large elongated coral growths.
By far the greatest diversity of marine life exists near the drop-off. You'll find some less common stony corals such as meandrine brain, rare rose, giant brain, large flower and large cactus corals. Forked sea feathers, knobby candelabra, deadman's fingers and common bushy soft corals sway elegantly on the reef surface. Red finger, lavender tube, giant tube and variable sponges decorate the reef with their brilliant colors and create homes for thousands of small shrimp, crabs and fish. The orange sea lily is especially common here. Densities of 25 individuals are not uncommon.
LONG CAYE WALL
Long Caye Wall offers more than just wall diving. Just off its eastern shore is a shallow reef and snorkelers or divers can enter from the beach. Getting in is a bit rough and a beach entry is not advisable on days with large swells or heavy seas. Fire coral and elkhorn coral grow in great profusion close to shore, but there are some openings in the coral. On good days, look for openings among the dense coral growth before getting in the water. Once you get past this initial barrier, the snorkel or dive is easy. A large variety of stony and soft corals flourish on this shallow reef. Many of the corals grow in less than 20 ft of water, so snorkelers can see everything.
Farther seaward, divers reach a sand and coral rubble zone. The coral rubble is part of a gradual transition from coral reef to a broad sand slope. Between 20-30 ft, the belt is mostly a barren blanket of rippled sand. Its only residents are sand divers and jawfish, which disappear into sand or burrows when approached.
Sand ripples die out below 30 ft, but the sand belt continues to trail off to 45 ft before ending abruptly at the base of a reef ridge. The sand is marked with burrows, feeding marks and a variety of animal trails.
Garden eels are one of several permanent residents. A small group of these shy creatures lives in burrows close to the area of sand waves. Other invertebrates here are alpheid shrimp and various mollusks. All live in the soft sands and are rarely found during the day except by visiting rays or other fish actively rooting for them.
Reaching within 35 ft of the surface, the wall is an exciting experience found 700 ft squarely off Long Caye. Seasoned divers soaring over the wall can explore a vertical drop with many overhangs. The wall is mantled with giant plates of sheet and boulder coral below 50 ft. Colorful sponges, wire coral, black coral and many hydroids are most abundant on deep parts of the wall. Every kind of soft coral imaginable forms a dense forest on shallow wall and its crest. Divers who prefer to watch for large animals will not be disappointed here either. Turtles, eagle rays, manta rays and barracudas are regular visitors all along the wall. This drop-off can provide you with many thrilling dives.
Another site standing out along the northeastern reef tract, Grouper Flats consists of lens-shaped reefs similar to those at Shark Point. It is a gently sloping reef of little relief and home to a large variety of groupers. It has two types of reefs, a shallow reef that extends to 30 ft and a very wide, deep reef beginning at 40 ft and extending to 80 ft. The shallow reef features mature elkhorn and huge masses of lettuce coral that look like loaves of bread densely covered with a growth of lettuce leaves.
These shallow coral formations are replaced by lens-shaped reef masses that are subdivided by winding and coalescing rivers of white sand. Although the reef has little relief, it is riddled with holes and crevices.
Grouper Flats got its name, naturally, from the many groupers that inhabit the gentle topography of the deep reef. They seek shelter within a virtual forest of soft coral and the endless number of crevices in the stony coral growths. Nassau, tiger, black, spotted and marble grouper are seen lying amid the sea whips and sea feathers. They are especially abundant and varied in the shallow part of the deep reef.
Located at the eastern end of the windward northern reefs, Shark Point is one of the more remote dive sites on Glover's. Heavy seas generally pound this exposed stretch of reef, making it a difficult site.
Distance and weather play a major role in determining if you can dive. The nearest resort equipped with day boats is nearly 9 miles away from Shark Point. Even if divers are willing to make the hour-long trip to get there, prolonged periods of excessive boat roll can make for an unsettling experience. Heavy seas create extreme boat motion and increase the risk of injury to divers exiting the water on day boats or live-aboards. Experienced divers may visit this site using Zodiacs launched from a larger vessel anchored inside the lagoon. These small rubberized crafts can quickly and safely transport divers to and from the reef, in fair weather.
When weather and sea conditions allow access to the reef point, the diving is sensational. A wide variety of sharks, seen almost always on these reefs, offer a unique and exhilarating experience. Nurse, blacktip, hammerhead and tiger sharks can all be seen together here on the sloping white sand channels and coral hills. Why they are attracted to this part of the reef is uncertain, but it may be because this exposed point is one of the premier spawning grounds for groupers and other fish.
Huge, lens-shaped reefs are sculptured by the constant pounding of heavy seas on the gently sloping point down to a depth of 90 ft. Below 20 ft, they are made up of a mixed collection of small living coral colonies and stacks of coral debris. Riddled with holes and spread across a reef more than 1 mile wide, the coral mounds contain millions of hiding places for a dazzling array of tropicals.
CZMA/I RESPONDS TO
CONCERNS ABOUT THE
The existing zoning division of the reserve came about following consutations with the many stakeholders of' the area. including fishermen. landowners. managers, scientists, and those involved in tourism. The end result of that Consultation was the division of the entire atoll, up to the 100 fathom depth contour, into four zones. These include a Conservation Zone located in the Southern portion of the atoll where no commercial fishing is permitted, a small Wilderness Zone surrounding Middle Caye where no extractive use is allowed, a Seasonal Closure Area on the northeast comer protectinga spawning ground for the Nassau Grouper; and a large General Use zone where fishing is permitted and carefully managed.
No-take zones are considered to be a basic requirement for marine protected areas to be effective. The no- take zone at the Glover's Reef Marine Reserve accounts for only about 30% of the entire reserve compared to the 70% that is opened to fishing.
The potential benefits of' marine protected areas are not limited to the protection of the delicate marine ecosystem, but also include improvement in fishery yields. A No-take Zone and a Seasonal Closure Area, such as those at the Reserve, allow fish to spawn undisturbed, and consequently, increase fish stock that is economically beneficial for fishermen. The economic benefits for Fishermen expand beyond the traditional sources, as reserves also provide diversified economical ventures such as boat charters for tourist tours.
Presently the atoll is used by fishermen fishing for lobster, conch and fin fish. It is also quickly becorning the center of a growing tourism industry. attracting SCUBA divers, snorkelers and kayakers. A field research station is also based on the atoll that has attracted both national and international scientists conducting studies. These researchers add important information to the knowledge base of our reefs.
To add to its growing international recognition. in December 1996, the Reserve was declared a World Heritage Site, along with six other protected areas located along our barrier reef and atolls. This is a very prestigious recognition under UNESCO's World Heritage Convention, and focuses world attention on our coral reefs. Under this designation, Belize is committed to the protection and integrity of' Glover's Reef as an outstanding marine ecosystem of universal value.
The Carrie Bow laboratory serves as the field base for Caribbean Coral Reef Ecosystems (CCRE), a collaborative program of the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History and the Belize Fisheries Department. CCRE. director Dr. Klaus Ruetzler selected the one-acre island atop the southern Belize harrier reef for their comprehensive. long-term study in February 1972. The area proved to he ideal for research because it is highly diverse in structure, habitat types, and plant and animal species. About 50 scientists a year come to Carrie Bow Caye from the Smithsonian and collaborating institutions around the world. Their studies of the Belize barrier reef systern have resulted in more than 600 scientific papers and books describing new species and other aspects of' the education initiatives to preserve these precious and fragile ecosystems.
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