The Belizean Cayes are a snorkeler and divers’ dream destination. The country is home to the second largest coral reef in the world, beaten only by Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. The waters are inhabited by far too many marine species to name in a list (over 600 different fish species and 40 different types of coral), but here are the highlights.
Arguably the highlight of any visitor to the Cayes is seeing a manatee, the gentle giants of the sea. These intriguing looking creatures are large, reaching over 3 metres in length. Though they spend their whole life under the sea, they come to the surface every half an hour or so to breathe. They are herbivores and live entirely off aquatic plants. Manatees live in small groups and tend to give birth to a single calf.
No introduction is needed for the world’s most playful marine mammal. If you take a boat out to the snorkeling or diving site, they tend to follow and jump in the wake of the boat. Once in the water, dolphins are equally inquisitive and tend to circle and nudge. Who wouldn’t want to see a pod of these magnificent creatures.
Snorkelling with nurse sharks is often the highlight. Though it sounds daunting for many, jumping into shallow waters with sharks is adrenaline-inducing. Fear not, these nurse sharks are harmless and have no teeth. Almost all full day snorkeling tours visit Shark Alley where it’s possible to get into the water with dozens of these sharks.
Spotted eagle rays
The most graceful marine creature in the waters. Spotted eagle rays glide elegantly feeding on mollusks, shrimp, small fish, octopus and crustaceans. They are superb swimmers and have the ability to jump out of the water up to several metres when needed. The biggest can grow up to a 3 metre wingspan and 5 metres in length.
Though most of the marine creatures are there all year round, whale sharks migrate during the spring. They visit the reef called Gladden Gladden Split off Placencia, an area which is used by dozens of Caribbean fish to release eggs. Snorkeling with whale sharks is truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience. These harmless giants of the sea will happily allow swimmers to get close without reacting. April and May are the best months to see whale sharks in Belize.
There are three main species of turtle in Belize – hawksbill, green and loggerhead turtles. Of the three, the hawksbill is the only one protected. Unfortunately, the others are hunted for their eggs and for their shells during the right season. One of the best places to see the huge loggerhead turtles is a the conch graveyard in the Hol Chan Marine Reserve. Here, enormous resident loggerheads wait for the fishermen’s’ conch and happily swim just feet away from eager swimmers.
To see the marine life in Belize for yourself, call one of our Belize experts on +44 (0) 207 407 1478 or take a look at our suggested tours here.