Coral reefs have existed for around 500 million years. They are beautiful undersea formations that come in many shapes, sizes and colors. Scuba divers and snorkelers exploring these areas will marvel at the varieties, from enormous mounds to delicate lacy fronds. Even today, most types of coral do best in warm, shallow waters, with the largest formations found in tropical locations. While they make up less than 1% of the surface of the ocean’s floor, they support over 25% of the oceans’ lifeforms. They provide not only shelter but also food for this vast variety of marine life. While the world’s largest reef, the 1,500-mile long Great Barrier Reef, is located in Australia, there is another great reef located closer to home. It’s the must visit Belize Barrier Reef, a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1996.
The Ocean’s Rainforest
In fact, coral reefs provide such a diverse ecosystem that they have been dubbed the ocean’s rainforests. Among the almost architectural beauty of the multicolored corals, visitors will find fish, mollusks, crustaceans, worms, sponges, and many other types of species. The Belize Barrier Reef, a part of the 559-mile long Mesoamerican Barrier Reef, is the second largest in the world at 185-miles long.
The Belize Barrier Reef System encompasses sites such as cayes, mangrove forests, atolls, lagoons, and estuaries that illustrate the evolution of reef development. It also provides habitat for species such as manatees, a variety of marine turtles, and other types of ocean life that are endangered or threatened. Because of the beauty and diversity of this natural wonder, the Belize Barrier Reef is a place that everyone should visit at least once. What makes a trip to see the reef more urgent, however, is that reefs are in danger worldwide due to climate change and pollution. In 2016, for example, 29% of the shallow water corals died in Australia’s Great Barrier Reef.
In response to the threats of these fragile ecosystems, the Government of Belize has implemented a long-term conservation plan. Not to mention, Belize has put an infinite moratorium on oil exploration alongside regulations to safeguard its precious natural areas, like its mangroves. Planning to visit Belize? Be sure to do your part, regardless of how small, like avoiding sunscreen brands that contain oxybenzone; this ingredient can damage coral. Instead, tourists should use reef-safe sunscreen or clothing and swimwear with built-in sun protection.