These are mainly physical site descriptions. Also visit site specific species lists page.
Incredibly every site we visit is remarkably different!
Hol Chan Marine Reserve (MPA) This is on the short list of most amazing dive and snorkel sites in the Caribbean. Hol chan is Mayan for little channel. Although the MPA is over 8 sq miles in size, zone A is the gem in the crown. It has a greater diversity of fishes with larger size than can be seen almost anywhere in the world.
Turtle Rock Island – The rock island was formed many years ago while removing a vessel from the reef. Over the years the island has been beaten down by storms and is now little more than an outcropping but with a unique community. The turtle is a result of a fisherman that cleans his catch at this spot. The addition of conch entrails to the water creates an unbelievable explosion of marine life including a dependable Loggerhead Turtle, rare horseshoe stingrays, spotted eaglerays and many, many more species that lose their fear allowing picture perfect proximity.
Shark ray Alley – At this world famous spot people find that sharks are not to be feared but awed. Nurse sharks and southern stingrays swirl about you. Fear turns to laughter as Jeff gets his pet ray,”scooter” to play with you.
Manatee Channel – Starting in April each year many male manatees leave their usual neighborhoods near rivers along the mainland and take up residence in Barrier Reef channels. They usually stay there through the summer. The males are visited by females that mate with them. Visits to this channel at the proper time may reveal a male alone or with a harem of females. Touching or harassing them in any manner is strictly forbidden.
Pillar Coral – This site is usually the first visited. The proximity to TREC and the shallow depth are perfect for getting skills and equipment checked out. Students can stand during any part of this snorkel. As the name indicates the area is dominated by pillar coral but is also a back reef rubble zone with tremendous invertebrate diversity. Pillar coral is a crepuscular species that produces a psuedo-nocturnal community around it. Lobster, crabs, eels, squirrel fish, octopus and other nocturnal groups are commonly found here during the day. This is also one of the best areas for an intro to the turtle grass bed community.
Tres Cocos – Often stop 2 of day 1. This is a deeper but still relatively shallow site as well. Students can stand in certain areas during this snorkel. This site is very diverse and one can expect to see almost any shallow water back reef organism. The Tres Cocos channel is accessible as well on calm days. Large stands of elk horn coral and turtles favor this site.
El Pescador – This site is near the el pescador channel, famous for its great fishing. This site can get rough and is only accessible on calm days.
Playa Blanca – Shallow water back reef site. Great inverts and a common spot for interacting with sleeping nurse sharks.
Catalane – Patch reef area in mid-lagoon. Surrounded by large areas of lug worm churned sand this is a hotspot in an otherwise turtle grass dominated region. Often encounter unusual vertebrates at this site including scorpion fish, electric rays and dolphins. (depth:10ft)
Mexico Rocks – An extensive but concentrated patch reef in mid-lagoon. This site is the furthest north (18 degrees) that most groups will travel. Its infrastructure is Montastrea spp but has the largest concentration of sponges of any site in the area outside of the mangroves. Squid are commonly encountered here and students use the squid behavior part of the breifing to spring into squid herding. (Depth:10-12ft)
Mexico Cave – Vertical mouthed cave at mid-lagoon. Roof at 10 ft, floor at 20 ft, 10 ft opening. We do not enter this cave but dive down and look in. Cave diving can be very dangerous. This is the spot we use to develop students’ free diving skills. There is a cave/arch swim through later in the week they will want to be ready to experience. There are 2 small patch reefs associated with the cave that often shelter green moray eels.
Mexico Back Reef – This is a site that few get the opportunity to visit. The Mexico Rocks corals are fed by two channels in the reef directly in front of the patch reef system. The associated back reef area can only be investigated on the calmest of days. It has a dept close to 20 ft and towering coral formations with large black grouper and rays common.
Mata Rocks – is a small area north of Mata channel where the back reef expands in size and diversity. Although the reef is close to the surface there are channels that can be used to explore the site. On calm days the channel can be crossed (once saw a huge african pompano there) to a towering patch reef between two channels. This is an area to find large critters including tarpon and manatee. A 60 year old pontoon wreck still sits on the bottom near were it clipped the reef long ago.
Soft Coral Gardens – A truly unique site, virtually a monoculture of 6 ft sea plumes with their breathtaking and variable colors from purple to yellow, green and tan. This is a patch system created by channels in the reef that have allowed the solid bedrock of limestone to be exposed for attachment. Frequently containing species we rarely encounter elsewhere including large schools of southern senate and big eye scad. *This can be a dangerous site due to boat traffic. Never enter the water there without a guide who understands the boat schedules and the site.
Tuffy – Named for Belize’s first shrimp trawler that wrecked here, the mast can still be seen. This is a site with 4 separate areas. One area is sheltered and almost always calm. Other areas include 2 channels, one with a wreck, an elkhorn coral wall several hundred feet long and a fore reef area.
Mangrove Isles – Accessed by boat, this site is surrounded by 3 ft deep grass beds but depth increases to 6 ft around the trees themselves. Calm day required for good visibility. Key species here include bat fish and upside down jellyfish. A deep water channel nearby has revealed a school of 35 spotted eagle rays and dolphin that just this August (2009) played with us for an hour and a half.
Coral Gardens – One of my absolute favorite spots! It is a large patch reef system feed by a barrier reef section that drops lower than the adjacent reef. A visit to this area will make it hard to believe that Acropora spp. are locally endangered in many areas of the caribbean and Florida. A depth of 10 to 13 ft makes it easy to cruise over the tremendous patches of the branching corals. Turtles common. This area is so large that we designate different parts of it by name –
Eiley Rocks – Southern most section of Coral Gardens. Tends to be dominated by Montastrea patch. Found our only specimen of white-linned toad fish here. This is a solely Belizean fish!
Deke’s Reef – Northern most section of Coral Gardens. Named for Dr. Deke Gunderson who twisted my arm to return to this site until I found it as enchanting as he did. It has good diversity of depth and species composition. An edge effect is probably at work at this site. Pillar Coral present.
Caye Caulker Wreck – In the winter of the year 1999 a construction barge was being towed from Belize City to San Pedro. A Norther was blowing. This occurs when a cold front dips down form the north and the wind changes direction from the dominant east. It results in everything that is not tied down inside the reef blowing towards the reef and the open ocean. As the barge passed Caye Caulker the tow rope broke. The barge blew out through a channel, flipped in the open ocean and sank. Some time later a tropical storm picked it up and carried back in through the North Cut and dropped it in about 17 feet of water. Depth to the surface of the deck is about 7 feet. The metal wreck shows about 10 years of coral growth, mostly slow growing corals such as brains and mustard hill. Coral competition can be clearly seen here. There are many hatch openings on the deck but entry is prohibited – for snorkelers. Nurse sharks and many other species (see list) of fishes and inverts. can be seen inside. One of the best views is from one of the holes in the side of the ship giving a “socks in the draw” perspective on the schools of fish. Because the wreck rests directly behind a channel it can be rough at this location but distances to swim are short. We anchor at the wreck and swim into the current about 150 feet. Returning to the boat you are carried by the current. Travel time from dock about 1 hour.
Caye Caulker North Cut back reef – Deep water back reef about 10 feet. A favored site by many, large stands of Elkhorn, Porites porites, Acrop0ra prolifera and Diploria strigosa abound.
Squid Shallows – shallow secondary reef running paralell to the main reef north of pescador channel. Squid common.