Setting & Trip RouteThe barrier reef, which runs the full length of the belizean coastline, is considered one of the richest marine ecosystems on earth
The 185 mile long reef runs from 10 to 25 miles offshore, and is the longest continuous reef in Caribbean; the second longest in the world. Along the Barrier Reef are over 225 cayes, ranging from small sand-fringed islands perched along the reef's edge, to larger islands of partially submerged mangroves.
Historically, ships avoided this area of the Caribbean because of inaccurate charts and the difficulty of navigating the shallow reef-strewn waters. Teeming with brilliantly-colored fish, sea grass beds, and patch reefs, the reef systems have not seen nearly the level of human impact as witnessed in Mexico to the north and Honduras to the south. We travel in the less-developed southern regions of Belize's Barrier Reef which remains a near-pristine marine ecosystem and is unparalleled in the Caribbean. It is in this region that we find the best sea kayaking and snorkeling. Our base of operation, in the southern coastal community of Dangriga, is the ideal launching point for us to explore this spectacular region.
The Belize Barrier Reef
Off the coast of Belize lies a biological gem among the world’s tropical marine habitats.
In Belize, we find a continuous reef structure running the length of the country and paralleling the coast. From the mainland coast, the reef cannot be seen; it lies 10 to 20 miles offshore. Travelling east from the mainland, the reef first becomes visible as a line of white surf crashing over the reef crest, with blue sea to the outside marking the deeper habitat of the fore reef. Approaching closer, we first enter the reef’s lagoon; a shallow area of turquoise waters, brilliant white sand flats and waving beds of turtle grass and corals. Cuts or breaks in the outside reef are common; this is where wave action cuts out channels into the lagoon which serve as navigation routes to and from the open sea. Shielding the coast of Belize from the full force of the sea, the barrier reef is a unique example of a living community of coral animals that has profoundly changed geography. Sheltered behind this living reef, small cayes (islands) of coral-sand form and in the sheltered lagoons mangroves thrive. The mangrove’s submerged roots trap sediments, which create important habitat for juvenile fish, countless marine invertebrates and a rich array of seabirds.
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