The Belize Barrier Reef is the second largest barrier reef in the world, and the largest of its kind in the Northern and Western Hemispheres. It is located off the eastern coast of Belize in the Caribbean Sea. This natural wonder is about 180 miles in length and maintains an offshore distance ranging from 1,000 feet to 25 miles.
The 370-square-mile Belize Barrier Reef is protected by a variety of national parks and reserves including the Bacalar Chico National Park and Marine Reserve, Blue Hole Natural Monument, Half Moon Caye Natural Monument, Glover’s Reef Marine Reserve, South Water Caye Marine Reserve, Laughing Bird Caye National Park, and Sapodilla Marine Reserve.
Mangroves cays, sandy islands, estuaries, lagoons, fringing reefs and barrier reefs are contained within the reef and its atolls. The three coral atolls, Lighthouse Reef, Glover’s Reef and the Turneffe Islands, are the only coral atolls located in the Western Hemisphere. One of the most well known destinations in the Belize Barrier Reef is the Blue Hole, an underwater sinkhole which formed when caves flooded as glaciers melted during the Ice Age. The Blue Hole is approximately 1,000 feet wide and 400 feet deep.
Several rare and endangered species, such as the American crocodile and the world’s largest population of West Indian manatees reside in the Belize Barrier Reef home. Other animals common to the region include sea-turtles, red-footed boobies, more than 500 species of fish, 65 species of stony coral and 350 species of mollusks.
The Belize Barrier Reef was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1996. In 2009, the Belize Barrier Reef became a World Heritage Site in Danger due to changes in climate and tourism.