Belize’s barrier reef, the largest in the Western Hemisphere and the second largest in the world, is a vibrant and remarkable 220-kilometer living structure playing host to a vast array of marine organism and ecosystems.
Inscribed as a World Heritage Site at the 1996 UNESCO World Heritage Convention, the reef system contains living and growing organisms, areas of exceptional beauty and natural phenomena, and natural habitats for marine life including endangered species. It is a protected natural property that consists of the following seven sites covering a total 92,610 hectares (228,839 acres):
Bacalar Chico National Park and Marine Reserve
Located on the northern tip of Ambergris Caye. The northern international border along with associated reef tract on the east and an area of Chetumal Bay on the west. High relief spur-and-groove formations, a double reef crest in the north patch reefs, and seagrass beds. Well known for its deepwater conch population.
Spawning ground for Nassau and yellowfin groupers at Rocky Point. Covers the terrestrial area that includes lagoon wetlands, salt marsh and mangrove, littoral forest, and other unusual vegetation types. Loggerhead turtles, crocodiles, wildcats water birds find refuge on land.
Blue Hole Natural Monument
A large, circular sinkhole which lies within me Lighthouse Reef Atoll. Geological cave formation surrounded by a circular rim of coral reef. Made famous by Jacques Cousteau and now Belize’s most popular dive site. Managed by the Belize Audubon Society (BAS).
Half Moon Caye Natural Monument
Belize’s first marine protected area declared in 1928. Includes the entire half Moon Caye and an extensive area of the surrounding atoll, fringing reef, and lagoon. Littoral forest on the western end of the caye provides a perfect habitat for a colony of white color phase Red Footed Boody bird, Sula Sula. The fringing reef provides several very popular dive spots, with a spectacular drop-off along the south-west wall. Managed by the Belize Audubon Society (BAS).
South Water Caye Marine Reserve
Located in the central province of the barrier reef. Designated in 1996. Contains both representative and unique habitat types. Well developed reef with Tobacco Reef extending in an unbroken segment for 9 km. Endangered species such as sea turtles and American crocodile. Other species such as the Brown Booby, Sula leucogaster, and the Magnificent Frigatebird, Fregata magnificens. The Smithsonian Institution operates a research station on Carrie Bow Caye within the reserve.
Glover´s Reef Marine Reserve
Encompassing the entire Glover’s Reef Atoll, considered one of the best-developed atolls in the Caribbean. Surrounded by a fringing reef that has only 3 channels or access points, all on the windward side. The atoll is approximately 32 by 12 km and lies 45 km east of the mainland coast. Coral growth to depths of 100 m or more and over 700 patch reefs stud the central lagoon. The Wildlife Conservation Society operates a research station on Middle Caye.
Laughing Bird Caye National Park
Named after the Laughing Gull, Larus artricilla, which breeds on the island. Lies on the rim of steep-sided faro, enclosing a central lagoon which is spectacularly pinnacled. Located within the barrier reef lagoon, bordered to the east by the deep Victoria channel. First designated in 1991, and encompassed only the caye Boundaries were extended to include the faro in 1996.
Sapodilla Cayes Marine Reserve
Situated on the extreme southern end of the barrier reef. Forms a J-shaped hook. Fourteen sand and mangrove Cayes dot the sides of the ¨Hook¨. Fringing reefs with extensive spur-and-groove formations extending eastward surround the Cayes. The central basin within the ¨hook¨ has scattered coral patches. These reefs are considered representative of the discontinuous reefs of the southern province of the barrier reef. Within the reserve. Hunting Caye houses an important Hawksbill nesting beach.