Belize Barrier Reef

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Belize Barrier Reef
Satellite image of Belize in March 31, 2002.jpg
The Barrier Reef is clearly visible along the eastern coast of Belize in the Caribbean Sea.
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Location Belize
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
Criteriavii, ix, x
Designated1996 (20th session)
Reference no. 764
State Party Belize
Region Latin America and the Caribbean
Endangered 2009–2018
Brain coral in the Great Blue Hole. Brain Coral, Belize.jpg
Brain coral in the Great Blue Hole.

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 down to Honduras, making it the second largest coral reef system in the world after the Great Barrier Reef in Australia. 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]


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

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]


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

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:

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

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Glovers Reef partially submerged atoll located off the southern coast of Belize

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.

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

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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. It is one of three atolls of the Belize Barrier Reef, along with 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.

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.


  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".
  3. Belize Barrier Reef Case Study Archived 2013-06-05 at the Wayback Machine . 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". 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