One of the world’s great natural wonders, The Belize Barrier Reef, running some 190 miles (300 km) along Belize’s Caribbean coastline, is the largest reef system in the northern hemisphere, and the world’s second largest after Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. Along with some of the planet’s largest atolls, the reef supports diverse, vibrant marine habitats, shelters hundreds of small islands, locally known as cayes, and provides protection for Belize’s Caribbean coast.
Since 1996 the Belize Barrier Reef has been designated as a UNESCO World heritage Site in recognition of its importance as a marine habitat and global natural resource. To ensure the continuation of the reef’s health, seven protected areas, accounting for some twelve percent of the entire reef system, have been established:
Bacalar Chico National Park and Marine Reserve
Blue Hole National Monument
Half Moon Caye Natural Monument
South Water Caye Marine Reserve
Glovers Reef Marine Reserve
Laughing Bird Caye National Park, and
Sapodilla Cayes Marine Reserve (Location of Reef Conservation International/ReefCI)
Together, the seven marine protected areas, the shelf lagoon, offshore atolls and coastal habitats all constitute the Belize Barrier Reef Reserve System, or BBRRS. As the largest barrier reef system in the northern hemisphere, it’s size, geographic spread and diversity makes for a vibrant ecosystem that supports an astounding number of species, including corals, fish, shellfish, sponges, tunicates, birds, marine mammals and other life forms, giving the BBRRS the highest levels of marine biodiversity in the Atlantic and Caribbean.