Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Diverse & Beautiful Belize Coral Reefs


Belize’s coral reefs are the most diverse and beautiful of all marine habitats which include both hard and soft corals among other marine life.  The sub-tropical climate here provide ideal conditions for the formation of corals which thrive in shallow, clean water, plenty sunlight and temperate waters between 16 and 30 degrees Celsius and an abundance of food sources such as plankton and baby shrimps.


Undeniably, the geographic formation of Belize’s landscape, along with the moderate climate, has favored some of the most astounding natural coral reef systems that took several millenniums to form. Over thousands of years, calcium carbonate skeletons of tiny coral polyps are collected together, layering over skeletons of past coral marine life.  As each generation of polyps dies, the corals grows a bit larger giving rise to a cluster of slow growing hard corals.  Soft corals, such as gorgonians, are also composed of some rigid calcium carbonate as hard corals.  Although well rooted, and with no exoskeletons, soft corals such as sea fans and sea whips move with the waves of the water.

Sea fans, sea whips and sea plumes are all soft corals from the gorgonian family.  The common sea fans are often sighted in a variety of brilliant colors while the fan-like polyp colonies are normally erect, flattened, and branching.  Carnation corals are natural charms that never fail to draw attention.  Quite easily, these are one of the most beautiful that comes in a spectacular range of colors.  No less impressive are the tree corals sighted through the vast reef systems in the cayes, shallows, atolls and drop-offs.  The beauty and biological diversity in these life forms are a true marvel.  Coral might be beautiful to look at but should not be touched.  Watch out especially for the fire corals from the Millepora family ranging in variety of shapes, including stick formations, branch formations and even those that resemble underwater plants. Nematocysts on the tentacle skin of these corals release toxins which create a burning sensation when rubbed against.


Just about any imaginable hard and soft coral is sighted in Belize’s reef systems whether diving or snorkeling around the atolls or other islands.  The sheer numbers of and different types of coral, sponges, and fish, makes scuba diving all the more exciting and enjoyable.  A proliferation of hard corals easily seen include the brain coral, staghorn coral, elkhorn, rose coral, club finger coral, rough and smooth starlet and the knobby candelabra. The brain coral are common but spectacular formations that may take several hundreds of years to form and may grow as high as six feet.  Corals feed at night by extending their tentacles to catch their food and use the tentacles as protection during the day. Hard corals, however, enjoy a symbiotic relationship with tiny algae which live inside their skin. These algae use the coral as a safe place to live, and in return, can provide the coral with most of its energy.

Staghorn corals and elkhorn corals are among the most important reef building corals sighted anywhere in the reef.  These hard coral colonies, although structurally complex, are incredibly fast growing with an average growth rate of 2 to 4 inches per year and may span as much as 10 ft wide.  This magnificent spread makes excellent homes for lobsters, parrot fish, snappers and other reef fish.

With such a vast and complex coral reef system that includes a barrier reef straddling the entire coast with teeming inhabitants, Belize’s reef is a universe of its own.  With top dive sites unmatched anywhere, Belize is well poised in the Blue Caribbean for extraordinary diving. To book any diving trip in Belize contact Patricia Ramirez at patricia@splashbelize.com

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