Away from the crashing surf of Belize’s beaches, along miles of impenetrable mangroves and lagoons, the landscape blends almost seamlessly with the Caribbean Sea. Low-lying tropical forests and savannahs gradually give way to the ocean, while submerged coral reefs continue the subtle transition farther out to sea.
Belize, formerly known as British Honduras, is a sparsely populated, conservation-minded country just south of Mexico. The relationship between ocean and land in Belize is intimate and comparatively trouble-free. Its waters are largely unpolluted, and more than 40 percent of the country is under formal protection. Nearly 75 percent of the landscape remains under forest cover. With Mexico and Guatemala, Belize shares the largest contiguous tropical forest north of the Amazon, La Selva Maya (the Mayan Forest).
Belize has long been popular with ecotourists in search of wildlife and scuba divers who come to explore its reefs. Terrestrial Belize is home to more than 500 species of birds, 75 species of bats, and five species of cat, including the jaguar. The coastal mangrove swamps and adjacent waters provide habitat for flamingos, marine turtles, grouper, and American crocodiles, while coral, sponge, and an array of fish and other marine plants and animals find shelter among the reefs.
- Belize’s barrier reef, which extends from a few hundred yards to as much as 25 miles offshore, stretches 155 miles from tip to tip.
- An intricate network of lagoons, mangrove swamps, and deltas provides habitat for manatees, birds, fish, and crocodiles. Between the shore and the barrier reef, where the water is typically shallow and calm, grass beds cover the sandy bottom.
- The barrier reef protects the mainland from storms and supports an underwater ecosystem of soft and hard coral, sponge, angelfish, parrotfish and other sea life.
- Staghorn coral predominated the reef before a bacterial infection proliferated in the 1980s. Now, the most common coral is lettuce coral.
- As an interface between the open ocean and the coast, the reef serves as a feeding ground for larger, roving ocean species such as barracuda, nurse and hammerhead sharks, and spotted eagle rays…
Courtesy Wildlife Conservation Society