Belize Barrier Reef

Last updated
Belize Barrier Reef
Brain Coral, Belize.jpg
Brain Coral in the Great Blue Hole
Satellite image of Belize in May 2001.jpg
The Barrier Reef is clearly visible along the Belizean coast.
Location Belize and Honduras
Nearest city Belize City, Belize
Coordinates 17°18′56″N87°32′4″W / 17.31556°N 87.53444°W / 17.31556; -87.53444 Coordinates: 17°18′56″N87°32′4″W / 17.31556°N 87.53444°W / 17.31556; -87.53444
Official nameBelize Barrier Reef Reserve System
TypeNatural
Criteriavii, ix, x
Designated1996 (20th session)
Reference no. 764
State Party Belize
Region Latin America and the Caribbean
Endangered 2009–2018

The Belize Barrier Reef is a series of coral reefs straddling the coast of Belize, roughly 300 meters (980 ft) offshore in the north and 40 kilometers (25 mi) in the south within the country limits. The Belize Barrier Reef is a 300-kilometer (190 mi) long section of the 900-kilometer (560 mi) Mesoamerican Barrier Reef System, which is continuous from Cancún on the north-eastern tip of the Yucatán Peninsula through the Riviera Maya and up to Honduras, making it as of 2019 the World's largest coral reef system in the world. (Australia's Great Barrier Reef is now ranked second only because of the coral bleaching that has occurred.) It is Belize's top tourist destination, popular for scuba diving and snorkeling and attracting almost half of its 260,000 visitors. It is also vital to the country's fishing industry. [1]

Coral reef Outcrop of rock in the sea formed by the growth and deposit of stony coral skeletons

A coral reef is an underwater ecosystem characterized by reef-building corals. Reefs are formed of colonies of coral polyps held together by calcium carbonate. Most coral reefs are built from stony corals, whose polyps cluster in groups.

Belize country in Central America

Belize is a country located on the eastern coast of Central America. Belize is bordered on the northwest by Mexico, on the east by the Caribbean Sea, and on the south and west by Guatemala. It has an area of 22,970 square kilometres (8,867 sq mi) and a population of 387,879 (2017). Its mainland is about 180 mi (290 km) long and 68 mi (110 km) wide. It has the lowest population and population density in Central America. The country's population growth rate of 1.87% per year (2015) is the second highest in the region and one of the highest in the Western Hemisphere.

Mesoamerican Barrier Reef System A marine region from Isla Contoy at the tip of the Yucatán Peninsula down to Belize, Guatemala and the Bay Islands of Honduras

The Mesoamerican Barrier Reef System (MBRS), also popularly known as the Great Mayan Reef or Great Maya Reef, is a marine region that stretches over 1,000 kilometres (620 mi) from Isla Contoy at the tip of the Yucatán Peninsula down to Belize, Guatemala and the Bay Islands of Honduras. The reef system includes various protected areas and parks including the Belize Barrier Reef, Arrecifes de Cozumel National Park, Hol Chan Marine Reserve (Belize), Sian Ka'an biosphere reserve, and the Cayos Cochinos Marine Park. Belize's coastline, comprising the Belize Barrier Reef, is home to approximately 80% of MBRS. The Belize Barrier Reef is the largest barrier reef in the northern hemisphere and the second largest barrier reef in the world. The Belize Barrier Reef and Belize's three offshore atolls, several hundred sand cays, mangrove forests, coastal lagoons and estuaries—collectively termed, the Belize Barrier Reef Reserve System—has been designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO (1996).

Contents

Charles Darwin described it as "the most remarkable reef in the West Indies" in 1842.

Charles Darwin British naturalist, author of "On the origin of species, by means of natural selection"

Charles Robert Darwin, was an English naturalist, geologist and biologist, best known for his contributions to the science of evolution. His proposition that all species of life have descended over time from common ancestors is now widely accepted, and considered a foundational concept in science. In a joint publication with Alfred Russel Wallace, he introduced his scientific theory that this branching pattern of evolution resulted from a process that he called natural selection, in which the struggle for existence has a similar effect to the artificial selection involved in selective breeding.

West Indies Island region in the Caribbean

The West Indies is a region of the North Atlantic Ocean and the Caribbean that includes the island countries and surrounding waters of three major archipelagos: the Greater Antilles, the Lesser Antilles and the Lucayan Archipelago.

In addition to its barrier reef, it also boasts three distinct Caribbean atolls: Turneffe Atoll, Glover's Reef and Lighthouse Reef. Lighthouse Reef is the most easterly diving area in Belize, it is home to the Great Blue Hole, made famous by Jacques Cousteau in 1970; Turneffe Atoll lies directly to the east of Belize City and is the nearest of the atolls to the capital. These different reefs provide diverse scuba diving opportunities that include walls, pinnacles and reef flats that are located throughout an enormous area of sea. [2]

Atoll Ring-shaped coral reef, generally formed over a subsiding oceanic volcano, with a central lagoon and perhaps islands around the rim

An atoll, sometimes called a coral atoll, is a ring-shaped coral reef including a coral rim that encircles a lagoon partially or completely. There may be coral islands or cays on the rim. The coral of the atoll often sits atop the rim of an extinct seamount or volcano which has eroded or subsided partially beneath the water. The lagoon forms over the volcanic crater or caldera while the higher rim remains above water or at shallow depths that permit the coral to grow and form the reefs. For the atoll to persist, continued erosion or subsidence must be at a rate slow enough to permit reef growth upward and outward to replace the lost height.

Turneffe Atoll Atoll off the coast of Belize, Central America

Turneffe Atoll is located southeast of Ambergris Caye and Caye Caulker, off the coast of Belize in Central America, 20 miles from Belize City, is one of three atolls of the Belize Barrier Reef, besides Glover's Reef and Lighthouse Reef. It is approximately 30 miles long and 10 miles wide, making it the largest coral atoll in Belize and in the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef System. The atoll was officially declared a marine reserve on November 22, 2012.

Glovers Reef

Glover's Reef is a partially submerged atoll located off the southern coast of Belize, approximately 45 kilometres from the mainland. It forms part of the outermost boundary of the Belize Barrier Reef, and is one of its three atolls, besides Turneffe Atoll and Lighthouse Reef.

Species

The Belize Barrier Reef is home to a large diversity of plants and animals :

Alcyonacea order of cnidarians

Alcyonacea, or soft corals, is an order of corals which do not produce calcium carbonate skeletons. Formerly known as gorgonians, they are sessile colonial cnidarians found throughout the oceans of the world, especially in the tropics and subtropics. Common names for subset of this order are sea fans and sea whips and are similar to the sea pen, a soft coral. Individual tiny polyps form colonies that are normally erect, flattened, branching, and reminiscent of a fan. Others may be whiplike, bushy, or even encrusting. A colony can be several feet high and across but only a few inches thick. They may be brightly coloured, often purple, red, or yellow. Photosynthetic gorgonians can be successfully kept in captive reef aquariums.

Invertebrate Animals without a vertebrate column

Invertebrates are animals that neither possess nor develop a vertebral column, derived from the notochord. This includes all animals apart from the subphylum Vertebrata. Familiar examples of invertebrates include arthropods, mollusks, annelids, and cnidarians.

With 90% of the reef still needing to be researched, it is estimated that only 10% of all species have been discovered. [3]

Environmental protection

A large portion of the reef is protected by the Belize Barrier Reef Reserve System, which includes seven marine reserves, 450 cayes, and three atolls. It totals 960 square kilometres (370 sq mi) in area, including:

Marine reserve

A marine reserve is a type of marine protected area that has legal protection against fishing or development. As of 2007 less than 1% of the world's oceans had been set aside in marine reserves. Benefits include increases in the diversity, density, biomass, body size and reproductive potential of fishery and other species within their boundaries.

In 1996 the Reserve System was designated a World Heritage Site due to its vulnerability and the fact that it contains the most important and significant natural habitats for in-situ conservation of biological diversity (according to criteria VII, IX, and X).

Belize became the first country in the world to completely ban bottom trawling in December 2010. [4] [5] In December 2015, Belize banned offshore oil drilling within 1 km of the Barrier Reef. [6]

Despite these protective measures, the reef remains under threat from oceanic pollution as well as uncontrolled tourism, shipping, and fishing. Other threats include hurricanes, along with global warming and the resulting increase in ocean temperatures, [7] which causes coral bleaching. It is claimed by scientists that over 40% of Belize's coral reef has been damaged since 1998. [1]

The Belize Barrier Reef has been affected by mass-bleaching events. The first mass bleaching occurred in 1995, with an estimated mortality of 10 percent of coral colonies, according to a report by the Coastal Zone Management Institute in Belize. A second mass-bleaching event occurred, when Hurricane Mitch struck in 1998. Biologists observed a 48 percent reduction in live coral cover across the Belize reef system.

Usually, it is hard to distinguish whether the reason for coral bleaching is human activities or natural reasons such as storms or bacterial fluctuations. But in the case of the Belize Barrier Reef, many factors which make the distinction difficult do not apply. Human population in this area is much more sparse than the corresponding areas near other coral reefs, so the human activity and pollution are much lower compared to other coral reefs and the Belize reef system is in a much more enclosed area.

When coral bleaching occurs, a large part of the coral dies, and the remaining part of the ecosystem begins the process of repairing the damage. But the chances of recovery are low, as corals that are bleached become much more vulnerable to disease. Disease often kills more corals than the bleaching event itself. With continuous bleaching, the coral reef will have little to no chance of recovery. [8]

The Belize Barrier Reef photographed from the International Space Station in 2016 Belize Barrier Reef from space.png
The Belize Barrier Reef photographed from the International Space Station in 2016

See also

Related Research Articles

Great Barrier Reef Coral reef system off the east coast of Australia, World Heritage Site

The Great Barrier Reef is the world's largest coral reef system composed of over 2,900 individual reefs and 900 islands stretching for over 2,300 kilometres (1,400 mi) over an area of approximately 344,400 square kilometres (133,000 sq mi). The reef is located in the Coral Sea, off the coast of Queensland, Australia. The Great Barrier Reef can be seen from outer space and is the world's biggest single structure made by living organisms. This reef structure is composed of and built by billions of tiny organisms, known as coral polyps. It supports a wide diversity of life and was selected as a World Heritage Site in 1981. CNN labelled it one of the seven natural wonders of the world. The Queensland National Trust named it a state icon of Queensland.

San Pedro Town Town in Belize, Belize

San Pedro is a town on the southern part of the island of Ambergris Caye in the Belize District of the nation of Belize, in Central America. According to 2015 mid-year estimates, the town has a population of about 16,444. It is the second-largest town in the Belize District and largest in the Belize Rural South constituency. The once sleepy fishing village was granted the status of a town in 1984.

Ambergris Caye island in Belize

Ambergris Caye, pronounced am-BUR-gris KEE, is the largest island of Belize, located northeast of the country in the Caribbean Sea. It is about 40 kilometres (25 mi) long from north to south, and about 1.6 kilometres (1 mi) wide. Where it has not been modified by man, is mostly a ring of white sand beach around mangrove swamp in the centre. Though administered as part of the Belize District, the closest point on the mainland is part of the Corozal District.

Gulf of Honduras A large inlet of the Caribbean Sea, indenting the coasts of Belize, Guatemala, and Honduras.

The Gulf or Bay of Honduras is a large inlet of the Caribbean Sea, indenting the coasts of Belize, Guatemala, and Honduras. From north to south, it runs for approximately 200 km from Dangriga, Belize, to La Ceiba, Honduras.

Great Blue Hole submarine sinkhole off the coast of Belize

The Great Blue Hole is a giant marine sinkhole off the coast of Belize. It lies near the center of Lighthouse Reef, a small atoll 70 km (43 mi) from the mainland and Belize City. The hole is circular in shape, 318 m (1,043 ft) across and 124 m (407 ft) deep. It was formed during several episodes of quaternary glaciation when sea levels were much lower. Analysis of stalactites found in the Great Blue Hole shows that formation took place 153,000; 66,000; 60,000; and 15,000 years ago. As the ocean began to rise again, the cave was flooded. The Great Blue Hole is a part of the larger Belize Barrier Reef Reserve System, a World Heritage Site of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

Hol Chan Marine Reserve

Hol Chan Marine Reserve is a marine reserve close to Ambergris Caye and Caye Caulker, off the coast of Belize. It covers approximately 18 km² (4,448 acres) of coral reefs, seagrass beds, and mangrove forest. Hol Chan is Mayan for "little channel".

Caye Chapel island in Belize

Caye Chapel is a small, privately owned island in Belize, 16 miles (26 km) north-northeast of Belize City and 3 miles (4.8 km) south of Caye Caulker. It was once owned by Isaiah Emmanuel Morter, Belize's first African millionaire.

Tourism in Belize

Tourism in Belize has grown considerably recently, and it is now the second largest industry in the nation. Belizean Prime Minister Dean Barrow has stated his intention to use tourism to combat poverty throughout the country. The growth in tourism has positively affected the agricultural, commercial, and finance industries, as well as the construction industry. The results for Belize's tourism-driven economy have been significant, with the nation welcoming almost one million tourists in a calendar year for the first time in its history in 2012.

Laughing Bird Caye

Laughing Bird Caye is an island off the coast of Placencia, Belize. On 21 December 1991, Laughing Bird Caye National Park was declared. It is spread over an area of 1.8 acres (0.73 ha). The national park is named after the laughing gull which breeds there.

Janet Gibson is a biologist and zoologist from Belize. She was awarded the Goldman Environmental Prize in 1990 for her efforts on conservation of the marine ecosystems along the Belizean coast, in particular the barrier reef system. The Belize Barrier Reef was granted UNESCO World Heritage status in 1996, through efforts of Gibson and others. She is the current director of the Belize Wildlife Conservation Society.

Bacalar Chico National Park and Marine Reserve

Bacalar Chico National Park and Marine Reserve (BCNPMR) is a protected area and UNESCO World Heritage Site on the northern part of Ambergris Caye in Belize.

Mexico Rocks is a shallow patch reef complex located off the far northern tip of Ambergris Caye, and is part of the Belize Barrier Reef system in the Caribbean Sea. The site consists of approximately 100 Holocene patch reefs clustered on a Pleistocene ridge of limestone and is composed predominantly of boulder star corals. The reef has accumulated in shallow water, about 2.5 to 5 metres deep, over the last 420 years, under static sea level conditions. The site was recommended for designation as a marine preserve in 1978, and was approved in 2015 as a part of the Hol Chan Marine Reserve. The reef is popular among snorkelers and SCUBA divers, and it is seen as an important addition to Ambergris Caye's ecotourism attractions.

Half Moon Caye island in Belize

Half Moon Caye is an island and natural monument of Belize located at the southeast corner of Lighthouse Reef Atoll. This natural monument was the first nature reserve to have been established in Belize under the National Park Systems Act in 1981 and first marine protected area in Central America. This is also Belize's oldest site of wildlife protection since it was first designated as a bird sanctuary in 1924 to protect the habitat of the red-footed booby birds.

Gladden Spit and Silk Cayes Marine Reserve

Gladden Spit and Silk Cayes Marine Reserve (GSSCMR) is a protected marine reserve in the central part of Belize's Barrier Reef. It covers approximately 25,980 acres (10,510 ha) lying 36 kilometres (22 mi) off the coast of Placencia. Established in 2003, The reserve comes under the authority of the government's Fisheries Department, but is managed by the Southern Environmental Association, a community-based organisation.

Mauger Caye Light lighthouse in Belize

Mauger Caye Light is an active lighthouse on the atoll island of Mauger Caye, the most northerly in the Turneffe Cays archipelago, which lies 30 km (19 mi) east of the coast of Belize. It is one of a number of lighthouses, which have been built on the cays in the coastal waters of Belize. At the southern end of the Turneffe atoll, is a similar but smaller light known as Caye Bokel. The name Mauger comes from the Creole word for meagre, and Bokel is from the Dutch word for elbow.

Lighthouse Reef atoll of Belize

Lighthouse Reef is an atoll in the Caribbean Sea, the easternmost part of the Belize Barrier Reef and one of its three atolls, the other two being Turneffe Atoll and Glover's Reef. Lighthouse Reef is located about 80 kilometres (50 mi) southeast of Belize City. The atoll is of oblong shape, approximately 35 kilometres (22 mi) long from north to south, and about 8 kilometres (5.0 mi) wide. It forms a shallow sandy lagoon with an area of 120 square kilometres (46 sq mi) and a depth between 2 to 6 metres deep.

References

  1. 1 2 Harrabin, Roger. (2006-06-12) Reef at forefront of CO2 battle . BBC News. Retrieved on 2011-10-21.
  2. "Scuba Diving in Belize: The Blue Hole, Ambergris and Turneffe Atoll". dive-the-world.com.
  3. Belize Barrier Reef Case Study. Westminster.edu. Retrieved on 2011-10-21.
  4. "Guatemalans trawling in Belize’s southern waters". Channel 5 Belize. 27 February 2013. Retrieved on 2013-02-28.
  5. "Belize Bans Bottom Trawling in Exclusive Economic Zone". Oceana.org.8 December 2010. Retrieved on 2013-02-28.
  6. "Government Implements Ban On Offshore Drilling". 7 News Belize. Retrieved 23 December 2015.
  7. "Coral Collapse in Caribbean". BBC News. May 4, 2000. Retrieved on October 21, 2011.
  8. Brian Handwerk and Lauri Hafvenstein Belize Reef Die-Off Due to Climate Change?. National Geographic. March 25, 2003