Diving the Doorstep of the Western Caribbean: The Belize Barrier Reef

by Carolee Chanona

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Endowed with three of the Western Hemisphere’s four total atolls and the second largest continuous coral reef in the world, diving offshore Belize is a brilliant stand-alone phenomenon. After being dubbed “the most remarkable reef in the West Indies” by Charles Darwin himself in 1842, Belize does not shy away from its claim to fame. With roughly 100 coral species, 500 species of fish, and much more to be discovered in its 370 square miles; intrigue yourself for hours on end with the Belize Barrier Reef – best explored on tank.

Belize’s Pride & Glory: The Belize Barrier Reef

diving belize turneffe atoll

Turneffe Atoll. Photo by Duarte Dellarole

Running from the North adjacent to Ambergris Caye with a general southward direction before hooking at the Sapodilla Cayes, the 185-mile long Belize Barrier Reef is Belize’s pride and glory. Engulfing an enchanting crystalline lagoon with 450 cayes and islets under its protection, going off the beaten path in Belize also means traversing it’s three coral atolls, underwater canyons, dive walls, and reef spurs. Formed by the rising of the oceans gradually covering limestone mountains, stony coral engulfed the near-circular lagoons to create what we now know as atolls.

Flamingo Tongue. Photo by Chris Taylor
Lettuce Sea Slug. Photo by Chris Taylor

Whether inside an atoll or simply within the barrier reef, Belize’s world class dive sites have long been Mother Nature’s best kept secret – not because it isn’t thrilling, but because you’d rather keep the magic to yourself. Discover the depths of the Caribbean Sea, from age- old stalactites to a kaleidoscope of coral forests with matchless dives just minutes from your doorstep. With three major atolls each ringed by coral spanning 50 miles and the second longest barrier reef in the world, there are more than enough unspoiled dive sites to go around.

Belize: Home to 3 of 4 Atolls in the Western Hemisphere

As the largest and most biologically diverse atoll in the Americas, the necklace of coral within Turneffe Atoll offers 131,690 (protected) hectares bursting alive with brilliantly giant coral sponges and natural nurseries of exotic tropical fish for one of Belize’s most lucrative dive spots. Further east, Lighthouse Reef Atoll 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, its steep dive walls – adorned with riotously colorful reef gardens – are a consistent favorite of both longtime divers and complete novices. Lying like a string of pearls in a blue sea, the southernmost Glover’s Reef Atoll 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 parrot fish and elegant southern sting ray.

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Written by Carolee Chanona for the 2020 Belize Gold Book.
Feature photo by Splash Dive Center. All other photos © caption. Article found on page 80 of the 2020 Belize Gold Book. Read more articles from the #BelizeGoldBook below:

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