The Belize Barrier Reef is the largest barrier reef in the Caribbean as well as the largest outside of the Pacific. Located close to the tourism-intensive Yucatan Peninsula, it is one of the most accessible major reefs as well as one of the world’s most popular tropical dive sites. Despite being a high-priority protected site, this coral reef is in a highly trafficked area and is one of the most endangered marine sanctuaries in the world.
The reefs and atolls of the Caribbean were among the earliest major undersea sites to be explored by western divers. The area was visited and studied by Charles Darwin in 1842, who proclaimed it the most remarkable reef in the West Indies. Its location at the heart of the Carribean close to the densely populated Yucatan Peninsula, the area suffers from the effects of pollution, overfishing and tourism. It has been a world heritage site since 1996, although listed as endangered since 2009.
The Belize reef system consists of a series of three atolls, many smaller islands and a series of interconnected marine reserves area. Many marine species make their home here, including hundreds of types of fish as well as several varieties of Sea Turtle, Dolphin, Manatee and other larger creatures. The atolls also abound with varieties of sharks and rays.
The Belize Barrier Reef stretches out over nearly 1,000 square km just off the Belizan coast of the Yucatan Peninsula. Largely located within twenty miles of the coast, it is easily accessible by boat from Belize Citry. The reef is an open site, although access to some of the more endangered areas may be restricted. Web: www.ambergriscaye.com (official website).