The second smallest country on the American continent has a magnificent natural space: the largest reef system in the northern hemisphere. The World Heritage, which has been on the Red List since 2009, extends over 260 km from the Yucatán Peninsula to the Gulf of Honduras. The highlight is the “Blue Hole”, a circular body of water with a diameter of almost 300 m and a depth of over 120 m that looks like a sapphire-colored eye.
Belize Barrier Reef: Facts
|Official title:||Barrier reef|
|Natural monument:||Bacalar Chico National Park and Marine Reserve (107 km²) with partly coastal reef, the Blue Hole Natural Monument (4.1 km²) within the Lighthouse Reef, Half Moon Caye Natural Monument, which is very popular with divers and made famous by the marine scientist Jacques Cousteau (39 km²), South Water Caye Marine Reserve (298 km²) with the 9 km long Tobacco Reef; Glover’s Reef Marine Reserve (308 km²) with coral growth to a depth of 100 m; Sapodilla Cayes Marine Reserve (127 km²) with 14 sand and mangrove coral islands|
|Location:||7 marine reserves and national parks off the coast of Belize|
|Appointment:||1996; was on the list of endangered UNESCO World Heritage Sites from 2009-2018|
|Meaning:||largest barrier reef in the northern hemisphere with hundreds of atolls, mangrove forests and lagoons as habitat for threatened species|
|Flora and fauna:||500 kinds of fish, 350 kinds of molluscs; Bacalar Chico as the green turtle’s “nursery”; Half Moon Caye breeding ground for frigate birds and red-footed boobies, South Water Caye habitat and others. of brown boobies|
A primeval magical world
Marine researcher Jacques Cousteau looked into the eye of a giant when he maneuvered his ship »Calypso« through the narrow coral channels off the Belizean coast in 1972. A circular duckweed, blue-violet like a sapphire, in the turquoise sea: the “Blue Hole”, about 90 meters in diameter and immeasurably deep, was created by the collapse of an underground cave. Cousteau, fascinated by this natural phenomenon, moored his ship and dived inside the “Blue Hole” to make film recordings.
Huge stalactites hang at a depth of up to 50 meters from the ceilings of the caves, in which sharks and sea turtles cavort. A few miles from the mysterious “sea eye”, an endlessly winding line of white foam crowns heralds the natural wonder that small “flower animals” have created over millennia – the second largest barrier reef in the world. It stretches south from the Mexican border to the Bay of Honduras and forms a unique ecosystem with its coral gardens, lagoons, atolls, seagrass meadows, sand and mangrove islands.
Underwater the reef resembles a jungle landscape with mountains, valleys, gorges and caves, from which moray eels sometimes peek out with terrifying open mouths. It is a prehistoric magical world made up of bizarre stone formations and lush coral bushes that graze exotic fish for food. It grew mostly on a prehistoric reef that formed more than a million years ago when water was trapped in gigantic northern glaciers and sea levels were 90 meters lower than today.
The basic structure of this coastal protective wall consists of limestone, on which billions and billions of individual coral polyps form colonies that move upwards or downwards and assume a variety of shapes. The growth rate of the polyps varies depending on the species and living conditions: coral reefs in warm tropical waters only grow a maximum of 24 centimeters in a century. Soft corals gracefully sway their yellow or light red shimmering trunks and branches over the limestone ridge in the current, forming a colorful underwater forest, and the towering purple-red veined fans of filigree horned corals sway back and forth as if moved by a magical hand. Many fish adapt perfectly to the changing play of colors from sunlight and water level, like the doctor fish, whose shape is reminiscent of a small discus, or the predatory groupers, which – well camouflaged – wait for prey in the shade of coral protrusions. Silver-shining barracudas, which many divers fear more than sharks because of their unpredictable attacks, shoot past a steep underwater mountain slope, while eagle rays seem to float casually through the water with their “wings” spreading a meter wide.
In the Hol Chan marine protection park off the island of Ambergris, the rather clumsy looking nurse sharks and the manta rays, with a span of up to six meters, are real giants among the rays, are by no means uncommon; they have been tamed by the dubious habit of local dive guides to feed the animals.
Three of the most beautiful coral atolls in the Caribbean are located in front of the reef: Turneffe Islands, Glover’s Reef and Lighthouse Reef, which also includes the “Blue Hole”. Ring-shaped mini-atolls such as the tiny palm island Laughing Bird Caye are scattered across the sea. Frigate birds and pelicans find suitable nesting sites here. Between the reef and the coast with dense mangrove thickets, spoonbills, ibises, herons and cormorants breed on hundreds of cayes – olive-green, mostly uninhabited islets, overgrown with jungle, or sandy, palm-lined patches, as if dabbed in the turquoise-blue shaded Caribbean Sea. In 2009, according to youremailverifier, the Belize Barrier Reef was declared an Endangered World Heritage Site.