Dive Into Belize’s Atolls: A Beacon of Biodiversity

by Carolee Chanona

They say good things come in small packages. As tempting as it is teeming, Belize’s underwater wonders are bathed in near year-round sunshine with plenty to boast: UNESCO-attested, the Belize Barrier Reef Reserve System cuddles the coast for 185 miles as the largest reef complex in the Atlantic-Caribbean region. Within, the seven protected areas constituting the BBRRS comprises 12% of the entire Reef Complex. For those that seek a slice of sunken magnetism—discovered on an oxygen tank—think heart-pumping drift sites, mind-blowing macro critter action, caves and cavern, a soon-to-be planned wreck dive, and you’ve barely scratched the surface of diving Belize’s atolls.

diving belize
Get up close and personal with Belize's locals, like the Queen Angelfish. © Chris Taylor

Squeezed between the Caribbean Sea, Mexico and Guatemala, Belize covers an area of only 8,867 square miles—about the size of Wales—and biodiversity is the central fact. Our Belize Barrier Reef can be said to be the great, bright, wonderful heart of the place: the brilliant beacon for underwater enthusiasts. Even at a recreational diving limit of 130 feet below, this scuba diving mecca attracts dreamers, romantics, free spirits, the wayward, and the wandering with one of the richest underwater worlds on the planet.

Endowed with three of the Western Hemisphere’s four total atolls, Belize’s reef is a pillar of marine flora and fauna for the region. 

Turneffe Reef Atoll

As the largest and most biologically diverse atoll in the Americas, the necklace of coral within Turneffe Reef Atoll (TRA) offers 131,690 (protected) hectares bursting with brilliantly giant coral sponges and natural nurseries of exotic tropical fish for one of Belize’s most lucrative dive spots. If you’re looking for a wreck dive, Turneffe offers The Sayonara—a passenger and cargo ship deliberately sunk in 1985—and soon, The Wit Concrete. The 16-chambers of the 375-foot Witconcrete Vessel within the Soldier Caye Conservation Zone will not only act as Belize’s newest dive site but also its first artificial reef.

diving belize turneffe atoll
Turneffe Reef Atoll. Photo by Duarte Dellarole
Diving Glover's Reef. Image by ©MLoewen
Glovers Reef Atoll

Lying like a string of pearls in a blue sea, the southernmost Glover’s Reef Atoll (GRA) exemplifies pristine diving inside Belize’s best-formed atoll at 16-miles long and 7-miles wide. Find more than 700 pristine patch reefs brimming with the richest variety of marine life in the Caribbean—from the delicate fan coral and spiny urchin to the colorful stoplight parrotfish and elegant spotted eagle stingray by the score. Off The Wall, a site just east of Southwest Caye, is wall dive with an impressively steep drop into the Bartlett Trough—the deepest point in the Caribbean Sea. Thanks to the Bartlett Deep, 100- foot visibility and feeding marine life bring incredible biodiversity to the area, including the occasional giant manta rays.

Lighthouse Reef Atoll

Further east, Lighthouse Reef Atoll (LHRA) is likely Belize’s most visited, thanks to the allure of the legendary Great Blue Hole and its (seemingly) bottomless abyss. Besides abundant critters and inquisitive Reef Sharks, LHRA’s steep dive walls—adorned with riotously colorful reef gardens—are a consistent favorite of both longtime divers and complete novices. One such favorite is The Aquarium. On the northern side of Long Caye, The Aquarium is aptly named after the colonies of painted tunicates, swarming schools of tropical reef fish, and large pelagic marine fauna.

HMC aerial by Belize Audubon Society 5
Half Moon Caye and a glimpse of Lighthouse Reef Atoll. Image by Belize Audubon Society
Written by Carolee Chanona for the 2021/2022 Belize Gold Book.
Feature photo © John Romero. Article found on page 18 of the 2020/2021 Belize Gold Book. Read more articles from the #BelizeGoldBook below:

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