belize reef

Belize Barrier Reef

12 Amazing Facts You May Not Know About Belize’s Barrier Reef

It’s one thing to visit it. It’s another to understand the amazing aspects of the Belize Barrier Reef that might easily be named one of the Great Wonders of the World, if a modern-day list was compiled. Test your knowledge. See how many of these facts associated with Belize’s Barrier Reef you already knew. And don’t be afraid to pass along some of the things you learn next time you have an opportunity to show off your Central American geography acumen.

1. The Belize Barrier Reef was honored with a world record when it was designated as a World Heritage Site back in 1996. Since that time, the reserve system that is at the heart of this impressive designation has been protected thanks to government intervention that assures the preservation of this reef for generations to come.

2. The Belize Barrier Reef is the nation’s Number One tourist attraction, luring visitors from all over the world who are eager to explore this 600-by-300 kilometer section of the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef System. Visitors, scientists, students and tourists explore reef topography for scientific and photographic purposes, but it’s the underworld portion of the reef that draws untold number of divers and snorkelers year-round.

3. Mankind could learn a thing or two about diversity and harmony by using the Belize Barrier Reef as a model. Hundreds of exotic invertebrates, 500 types of fish, 70 hard coral species and 36 soft coral species all manage to get along nicely despite crowding and biological imperatives that might cause rivalry among such a diverse playground elsewhere on the planet.

4. Despite the fact that the Belize Barrier Reef is the object of countless studies, articles and other scholarly publications, you may be shocked to learn that thus far, only 10-percent of the reef itself–and the species that make the reef their home–have actually been investigated. For that reason alone, there are plenty of secrets yet to be revealed in the future when marine biologists get around to further exploration.

5. The Belize Barrier Reef has been referred to as a “rainforest of the sea” when compared to the biodiversity found in typical rainforests on land. Reefs shelter and nurture 25-percent of all marine species on Earth, yet if all barrier reefs on the planet were merged together, they would still only occupy territory that’s half the size of France!

6. Belize Reef tourism has become one of the most important industries in Belize’s history, generating $75 million USD per year back in 1994 when tourism hadn’t even begun to be seen as a major economic factor. Divers visiting Belize specifically to spend time at the reef have majorly boosted all aspects of the nation’s resort, restaurant and associated commercial interests–and even contributed to the nation’s real estate boom.

7. There is no shortage of celebrities who have introduced the world to Belize’s barrier reef. The first was the intrepid Charles Darwin who brought home news of “the most remarkable barrier reef in the West Indies” back in 1842. During the 20th Century, one of the biggest friends of the Belize Barrier Reef was the famous French diver, Jacques Cousteau. His books, documentaries and research are required reading for serious divers.

8. Without the existence of the Belize Barrier Reef, Belize’s fishing industry might not have attained premier status over time. Many species of fish graze at the reef, as do sea urchins and sponges, and for other species of fish who might be subject to more battering by violent Atlantic Ocean storms and waves, the reef serves as an important protector and barrier.

9. Belize has undertaken Herculean measures to make sure the reef is perpetually subject to in-situ conservation efforts. The most ambitious is the Belize Barrier Reef Reserve System, encompassing seven marine reserves, three atolls and 450 islands. Included within this reserve are Glover’s Reef, the Great Blue Hole, Half-moon Caye Natural Monument, Hol Chan Marine Reserve and these cayes: Ambergris,Caye Caulker, Chapel, St. George’s, English, Rendezvous, Gladden, Ranguana, Long, Maho, Blackbird and Three Coner.

10. Every inch of the Belize Barrier Reef was once alive! This startling fact is traced to the biology of animal colonies and coral that thrive in the ocean before they die, leaving skeletal remains and flotsam behind. Stony corals consist of polyps that secrete calcium carbonate, thus layer upon layer of excretions and skeletal remains form the reef. At this point, the surface is perpetually refined by waves and bio-erosion, which gives the reef its pock-marked appearance.

11. Contrary to some theories that coral reefs like the Belize Barrier Reef are best formed on deep ocean floors, in fact, these reefs require shallow, sunny, turbid, clear water to become established and grow. The reef looks impenetrable and rock solid due to centuries of build-up of marine creature skeletal remains, excretions and petrified plants, but despite this rugged appearance, coral reefs are actually fragile and susceptible to destruction by climate change, too much acidity in ocean waters and overly-aggressive fishing practices.

12. The Belize Barrier Reef is less than 10,000 years old! It wasn’t formed until after the last global ice sheet melted, causing a rise in sea levels and flooding continental plains. By the time Mayan forefathers migrated over the Bering Straits and down North America to the area we now call Belize, the reef was sufficiently formed to contribute dramatically to the success of Mayan fishing practices. Should oceans rise again and cover the reef’s surface so deeply, sunlight can’t reach the reef, this magnificent natural barrier could disappear forever.


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