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Friday, October 30, 2009

Coral Reefs in Belize, Mother Nature's Best Kept Secret



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By Dustin Hart

Coral reefs are most commonly found in tropical waters, but on a smaller scale deep water and cold water corals also exist. Globally, these are under threat from climate change, ocean acidification, overuse of reef resources, and harmful land use practices. High nutrient levels from agricultural areas can also harm reefs by encouraging excessive algae growths.

Belize is fortunate to have these barrier reefs, and yet is able to preserve them. With crystal clear Caribbean waters, we could literally see through the sea.

Found only in marine waters, these calcareous formations support the living corals and a great variety of other animal and plant life. They come in many shades and colors, and here in Belize - the see-through clear waters make them a wonderful sight.

Lighthouse Reef Atoll

Lighthouse reef atoll is located 45 miles east of Belize City, and is one of the only four such atolls in the western hemisphere. Long Caye is in southern part of Belize, and is the largest of the five cayes within the atoll. It is remote, yet accessible.

The lagoons and mangroves of Long Caye provide a unique habitat for the abundant array of tropical wildlife that we find here. This is surrounded by magnificent walls of corals with a marine eco-system that is extending for miles.

The Half Moon Caye Bird Sanctuary, The Great Blue Hole, and other coral reefs and diving sites - like The Aquarium, Half Moon Wall and Cathedral are just minutes away from the Lighthouse reef. Long Caye offers extraordinary opportunities for scuba diving, snorkeling, photography, sailing, recreational and sport-fishing, sea kayaking, bird watching and swimming. You could just relax here and explore this magnificent Caribbean beauty.

The community on Long Caye, has a long term responsibility to help preserve and manage this pristine environment, and create a legacy for generations to come. Tourists and visitors are welcome here provided they understand the need and follow the eco-guidelines in place for preserving and maintaining this significant heritage.

The Barrier Reef off Ambergris Caye

This Barrier Reef lies about half a mile off the windward side of the island and is the longest barrier reef in the Western Hemisphere, and the second longest in the world.

To the east of Barrier Reef are three separate atoll reefs - Turneffe and Glover's on one ridge, and Lighthouse on a separate ridge further east. Deep marine trenches separate the two reefs. There is also a fourth atoll reef - The Banco Chinchorro, to the north in Mexican waters.

Flying south into Belize, we can see the Barrier Reef as an unbroken chain of white surf running alongside the Caribbean coast of the Yucatan Peninsula and continuing south throughout the whole length of the country to the Ranguana and Sapodilla cayes.

Inside these reefs the water is shallow and with a bluish tinge. Outside, the water is deep, and from the sky shows as a dark royal blue. These two shades of blue, of the same sea are visibly separated by a narrow yellow line, as this Barrier Reef stands out.

Close to the populated island, the Barrier Reef is a magnificent solid wall of coral formation broken only by narrow channels called 'quebradas'. This is where divers could be kept enthralled for hours by the unending variety, shapes and colors of the tropical coral.

However this reef is more than just a decorative sideshow. Without this the island would not have existed for it serves as a natural break-water, protecting the beach from erosion, and sheltering the caye and the inhabitants.

Reef Brief

Though the reef looks like dead stone, it is in fact a living wall formed by millions of coral organisms. Actually, the corals are carnivorous animals known as polyps, which feed on small sea creatures that float by, capturing them with stinging tentacles. They only feed at night, pulling their tentacles back into the skeleton during the day.

Minute blue-green algae live within the coral skeleton, and give off oxygen, which the coral polyps breathe in; and the algae in turn absorb the carbon-dioxide which the coral polyps give away, forming a genuine symbiotic relationship.

Belize Beauty

These corals grow into various exotic shapes and colors. You will find them in gold, to red, orange, green, brown and yellow. Underwater rainbows are here to be found.

Belize is not just enchanting on ground, even deep down you will realize, this is nothing but paradise.

Dustin Hart is not a quintessential writer - rather he is a back-packer who lives off his ultra-light folding bike. He lives (or tries to live) in the state of Washington - with his dog Toobs. He recently caught up with Larry Schneider of Eco Holdings Limited in relation to the eco-friendly tourism & real estate in Belize.

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