The Belize Barrier Reef
The Belize Barrier Reef or Belize Reef is a coral reef system that extends the entire coast of Belize. The Belize reef (also known as Mesoamerican Barrier Reef System) is a 300-kilometer or 190 miles long. The Belize Reef is without a doubt the #1 tourist attraction in Belize. The Belize reef is roughly 980 ft (or 300 meters) from the East Coast of Ambergris Caye (in the northernmost area of Belize) and 40 kilometers (25 miles) from the coast of the Southern areas of Belize (Placencia & Punta Gorda). Even though the Belize Reef is mostly in Belize, it is referred to as the Mesoamerican Reef since it is continuous from the Cancun reef system on the northeastern tip of the Yucatán Peninsula and continues down towards Honduras. The Belize Barrier Reef is the second largest coral reef system in the world after the Great Barrier Reef in Australia. Even though it is the second largest reef in the world, it is the largest living reef.
The Belize Barrier Reef is the top tourist destination and attraction in Belize. It is world-renowned for scuba diving and snorkeling. The Belize reef alone is responsible for attracting almost half of Belize’s tourism. It is also vital to the fishing industry in Belize. It is important to note that as part of reef conservation, Belize has banned all commercial fishing and off-shore oil exploration and drilling.
Belize Barrier Reef Reserve System
The coastal area of Belize is picturesque (both above and below the surface of the water). The Belize reef is an outstanding natural ecosystem system consisting of the largest barrier reef in the northern hemisphere and western hemisphere. The Belize reef has numerous offshore atolls, several hundred islands, and lush mangroves. The Belize reef creates a unique habitat that is home to many threatened species, including marine turtles, and manatees.
The Belize Barrier Reef, which became a protected UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1996, is comprised of seven protected areas, which include; Bacalar Chico National Park (North Ambergris Caye) and Marine Reserve, The Great Blue Hole, Half Moon Caye, South Water Caye, Glover’s Reef Marine Reserve, Laughing Bird Caye, and Sapodilla Cayes.
The Belize Reef is also home to the popular Hol Chan Marine Reserve. Hol Chan Marine Reserve is a marine reserve close to Ambergris Caye just off the southern coast of Ambergris Caye (near San Pedro). Hol Chan Marine Reserve covers approximately 18 km² (7 miles²) and is made up of coral reefs, seagrass beds, and mangrove forests.
The Belize Barrier Reef is the largest reef system in the Atlantic-Caribbean region it represents the second-largest reef system in the world. The seven protected areas that constitute the Belize Reef comprise 12% of the entire Reef Complex.
The Belize Barrier Reef Reserve System is one system comprised of seven protected areas and marine reserves located along the length of Belize. It is the largest barrier reef in the Northern hemisphere and represents all the main reef and coastal habitats. The network of protected areas within the Belize reef is large enough to maintain the necessary ecological environment. The geographic spread and diversity of the Belize Reef enhance its resilience, which is an essential factor when mitigating the environmental impacts of climate change, global warming, the potential risk of coral bleaching, and rising sea levels. The Belize Reef system also helps with the mitigation of storm damage and hurricane impact in Belize as the reef breaks up any large waves and potential storm surges.
Belize Reef & Belize Atolls
An atoll is a ring-shaped coral reef, island, or series of islets. Including a coral rim that encircles a lagoon. The atoll surrounds a body of water called a lagoon. An atoll is a ring-shaped island formed of coral that surrounds a lagoon. As reef-building corals thrive only in warm waters, atolls are only found in tropical destinations with large reef systems.
An Atoll is formed when an underwater volcano erupts, which creates a seamount under the surface of the water. As the seamount builds, it rises above the water and becomes an island. Over time, reefs and corals grow around the island and the volcanic soil erodes away, leaving behind a circular reef and a large lagoon at the center. An Atoll takes thousands of years to create.
Belize is home to three of the four atolls in the Western Hemisphere. The fourth atoll in the Western Hemisphere is located in Banco Chinchorro in Mexico. The three atolls located off the coast of Belize are Glover’s Reef Atoll, Lighthouse Reef Atoll, and Turneffe Atoll. Lighthouse Atoll near Ambergris Caye is home to the famous Belize Great Blue Hole.
What is an Atoll?
Hol Chan Marine Reserve
The Belize Reef is home to the popular Hol Chan Marine Reserve. The Hol Chan Marine Reserve is one of the most popular dive and snorkeling spots in Belize and Ambergris Caye. Hol Chan Marine Reserve is a marine reserve close to Ambergris Caye just off the southern coast of San Pedro Town. Hol Chan Marine Reserve covers approximately 18 km² (7 miles²) and is made up of coral reefs, seagrass beds, and mangrove forests. In the Mayan language “Hol Chan” translates to “little channel”. Hol Chan is also home to Shark Ray Alley (which became part of the marine reserve in 1999).
The Hol Chan Marine Reserve was established as a marine protected area in 1987 under the Fisheries Act (Statutory Instrument # 57) Laws of Belize. It incorporates the southernmost marine and coastal areas of Ambergris Caye including the barrier reef, seagrass beds, and mangrove islands. Hol Chan is divided into four zones which include no-take areas and zones that regulate and promote sustainable fishing practices. The reserve was originally divided into four areas:
- Zone A includes the inside and outside of the reef (part of the Belize Barrier Reef).
- Zone B covers the seagrass beds inside the reef.
- Zone C covers the mangrove swamps of southern Ambergris Caye.
- Zone D covers Shark Ray Ally which was added in 1999.
The Belize Reef system is the largest tourism driver in Belize as it attracts tourists from around the world for fishing, scuba diving & snorkeling. For more information on Belize or to learn about Belize real estate and Belize investment properties contact us at RE/MAX Belize.