The Belize Barrier Reef belongs to the 900 kilometer long Mesoamerican Barrier Reef System in the Atlantic-Caribbean region, which stretches from Cancún to Honduras. The Belize Barrier Reef itself is the second largest barrier reef in the world, beaten only by the Great Barrier Reef off the coast of Queensland, Australia (also one of the seven wonders of the underwater world) and it is home to over known 500 species of reef fish and 86 species of soft and hard corals, although what has been discovered is said by experts to be only a small percentage of what is actually there.
This particular section of the Mesoamerican barrier reef is 300 kilometers long, and while it may not house the kind of biodiversity that the Palau Reefs exhibit, the Belize Barrier Reef was described by Charles Darwin as “the most remarkable reef in the West Indies”. Within this 300 kilometer stretch are over 200 small islands, 3 atolls (rings of coral that surround a lagoon of water) including the well known Great Blue Hole and also 450 cays (small raised islands of sand above reefs). It is this diversity in structure that allows the tourism industry to thrive at the Belize Barrier Reef.
The Belize Barrier Reef is a completely natural underwater structure, whose coral is thought to have been formed within the past 500,000 years. While this is relatively young for a barrier reef, the limestone rocks that the Belize Barrier Reef corals have grown upon may be anywhere from 2 to 135 million years old, and the atolls somewhere in between. Of course these dates are so far back into history that it’s impossible for marine biologists and geologists to give any specific dates.
Due largely to the discovery of stalactites in the underwater caves found in the Belize Barrier Reef, geologists have discovered that the Belize Barrier Reef was not created by volcanic activity (as many reefs are) but instead by the most recent glacial period instead. The formation of the Belize Barrier Reef has been entirely natural, although over the past forty years there has been a lot of damage done to the reef and wildlife that lives within.
Why it Was Chosen:
In 1989 CEDAM International (CEDAM = Conservation, Education, Diving, Awareness and Marine-Research) put together the seven wonders of the underwater world, comprising the structures and regions of the world that they deemed worthy of such a title. Due to the Belize Barrier Reef’s unusual structure, great beauty and need for conservation CEDAM added it to their list without question.
As well as being one of CEDAM’s seven wonders of the underwater world, the Belize Barrier Reef system located in Belize was also named as a World Heritage Site by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization in the mid 1990s. This only served to add to the barrier reef’s great prestige and there is no sign of this natural, underwater wonder losing any interest from scientists, marine biologists and geographical experts worldwide, not to mention the thousands of tourists that visit each and every year.
How Can it Be Seen?
At one time, Belize was central to the Mayan people and as a result this central American country is steeped in rich history and culture, as well as the tourism brought to it by the Belize Barrier Reef. As a result Belize is the perfect place to enjoy a holiday both on land and off, as you explore both the barrier reef system and the tropical forests.
Travel to the Ambergris Caye for scuba diving and snorkeling excursions, as this island is the closest land to the reef. From here you can also visit the esteemed Great Blue Hole, Shark Ray Alley, Lighthouse Reefs, Mexico Rocks and Hol Chan Marine Reserve.
Flying to Belize is simple from a number of US airports such as Houston, Dallas, Miami, Atlanta and Charlottesville, although from Europe it is a little harder. The nearest airport to the barrier reef is the Philip S W Goldson International Airport (BZE) around 11 miles away, where you can catch a taxi to the city center (no tipping). There are also several water taxis and major cruise lines that pass through Belize, so you can visit the nearby regions as well as Belize and its reef.